Monday, 19 March 2012

The streets have no names

Charnizay is a fairly small village even by French standards and has all of 4 main streets. The church and mairie stand at the intersection of three of these.
Whether by accident or design, two of these three routes and the intersction have dates and not street names. This prediliction for for using dates in place of names to identify streets and squares is, in our experience, a peculiarly European habit.
Armistice Day 1918, end of The Great War
France especially seems to like using dates rather than names. One is just as likely to find Ave 24 Juin 1859 as Ave Solferino. We are hard pressed to come up with a British example. In Edinburgh, there is a major thoroughfare called Waterloo Place, but nowhere does one find a 18th of June 1815 Place.

Armistice Day, 1945, end of WW2
Two of our three 'dated' locations are self explanatory, both are the dates which mark the end of the two world wars.

The third, one which is being noted throughout the country today, marks the official end of the Algerian War of Independence. Today, as they have every year previously, the surviving be-medaled veterans [who were conscripted] of the parish hold a commemorative service in front of the mairie complete with regimental banners.
end of the Algerian War of Independence
It has been suggested that Algeria is to France what Vietnam is to the USA. Even 50 years later this seven year conflict casts a shadow on French national consciousness, having caused rifts along both political and social lines which are still felt today.

19 comments:

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Niall and Antoinette:
This is most fascinating and we are much intrigued by the street number which marks the end of the Algerian war fifty years ago today.

In Hungary dates are used much in the same way as you describe here. Most certainly not a British thing!!

Food, Fun and Life in the Charente said...

Interesting post. We have no names in our hamlet the post lady knows everyone! Diane

MorningAJ said...

A long time ago two very talented comedy writers called Sellar and Yeatman wrote a book - 1066 and All That, in which they stated that the English (might have been the British) only remember two dates from their history. That's 1066 (Battle of Hastings) and 55BC (arrival of Julius Caesar).

They are the only times in English history that we've been conquered by force. The rest of Europe has a few more recent dates to remember, which might explain why they use them but we tend not to.

LindyLouMac in Italy said...

In Italy famous historical dates are used in the same way, I think it is a great way of reminding people of those important dates in the country's history.

Perpetua said...

Our tiny commune doesn't use street names, just Le Bourg and the lieux-dits. The chef-lieu of our very rural canton does have street names, one of which is the Rue du 8 mai. Given that most of the tiny place was flattened in WW2, it's very understandable they chose this date.

Susan said...

We came through Charnizay this morning and noted the place was full of old ladies dressed to the nines heading for the church.

Algeria may have been France's Vietnam, but Vietnam did a pretty good job in its own right of humiliating France.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Jane & Lance - it isn't uncommon; although you see far more commemorating both world wars.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Diane - we don't actually live in the village and our lieu-dit only has 2 houses. Like you, our post lady knows us by name.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@AJ - we have a well worn copy of 1066 and All That :-).

Niall & Antoinette said...

@LindyLou - it certainly helps remember.

We wonder how many people would be able to give the month & year of the battle of Waterloo if one stood on the corner of Waterloo Place in Edinburgh and asked passers-by.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Perpetua - I should think that almost everywhere in France will have the 8th May commemorated, and 11 November as well. Certainly the northern half of France has, all too often, been a battleground.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Susan - it was Charnizay church's turn to hold a service so the glad rags came out.

Yes the French did get a hefty bop on the nose in Vietnam.

GaynorB said...

Interesting.

I wonder what will be the UK's Algeria or Vietnam? Afghanistan ...

John Gray said...

the french signs are so classy!
we have one in our bathroom"

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Gaynor - one wonders...

Niall & Antoinette said...

@john - :-) Especially the 'proper' ones made of blue enamel with white lettering.

the fly in the web said...

Dates as well as names on roads over here too...which has been very good introduction to the history of the country.

Just before we left France we had a letter from the maire announcing that all houses were to have numbers.
Ours was number 1 and our neighbour was most annoyed as he had been there longer than us!

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Fly - we don't have numbers in our lieu-dit. Be a bit silly as there are only two occupied houses: ours and the neighbours. The other 2 are ruins being reclaimed by the woods. But Charnizay is such a metropolis it has several streets with house numbers :-)!

the fly in the web said...

There are five houses/farms over a widespread lieu-dit - numbers make no sense at all.