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Visiting Givet, France, and its railroad station: end of the line psychologies at a geographical curiosity
Everything seems to begin and end at the railroad station
You really are at the end of the line at the railroad station at Givet, France. (At least, for passenger traffic.)
Givet, in the Ardennes department of northern France, is situated in elongated French territory almost 270 degrees surrounded by Belgium.
In fact, it seems that you are just as likely to see a bus from Belgium outside the railroad station as you are a train of the SNCF (1) from other parts of France.
I have supplied a view of a regional train standing at the platform of Givet station (see right), because it seems to typify something of the local atmosphere. The ticket collector is seen standing on the platform, looking rather bored, next to an empty train, waiting not for expected crowds of passengers but for the departure time of a train service which, one suspects, is not maintained for business reasons but for state-driven reasons of keeping rail communications open to an isolated outpost of French territory.
The map I have supplied (right, below) shows the canton of Givet at the northern extremity of Charleville-Mézières arrondissement, within the Champagne-Ardenne region.
Givet, an isolated port town on the Meuse river, with an end of the line station on the geographical of the French railroad network, makes an ideal psychological backdrop to a mystery novel. This has indeed occurred; writer Georges Simenon, creator of the character Inspector Jules Maigret, wrote his novel Chez les Flamands with the unique situation of the border town of Givet as a telling leitmotif. The plot centres around a Belgian family, originally from Flanders, who own a business on French territory a short distance from the border: quintessential outsiders, in a French town itself remote from the rest of France, where Inspector Maigret, called upon unofficially to investigate a mystery, finds himself an outsider also. In a plot containing layer upon layer of distance from territorial, spatial and identity perspectives, it is Maigret's arrival at the railroad station at Givet that sets the scene for a novel with an absorbing atmosphere.
I myself had visited Givet before reading Chez les Flamands, and then visited the town again, on a damp, fall day. As twilight arrived, I found myself in a café, with the atmosphere of Simenon's novel very much in mind, and I could picture a familiar, fictional figure wearing a damp raincoat slowly entering the café in an attitude of bored decisiveness...(2)
The fact that novelist Georges Simenon was Belgian probably only added to the writer's sense of savoring the special ambience of this French town on the Belgian border, for the novel's setting.
Givet may not be the most exciting town in France, but it is in my view one which commands a most striking and unique atmosphere, where the Franco-Belgian border and a latent sense of multiple alienations form part of a local state of mind, and where everything seems to begin and end at the railroad station at the end of the line.
November 16, 2013
(1) SNCF stands for the French national railroad company, Société Nationale des Chemins de fer français.
(2) I have supplied a photo (right, above) of Jan Teulings, one of the many actors who have played the rôle of Inspector Maigret in the numerous film adaptations of Simenon's Maigret novels. Other well-known actors who have played Maigret include Bruno Cremer, Jean Richard, Rupert Davies and others.
Also worth seeing
In Givet itself, the imposing Fort Charlemont overlooks the town; Givet has some interesting ecclesiastical architecture and a striking Town Hall; the Tour Victoire has watched over the Meuse River since the Middle Ages.
How to get there: The nearest large, international airport to Givet is Brussels Airport (Brussel Nationaal / Bruxelles-National ), Belgium, to which Brussels Airlines flies from New York. Car rental is available from Brussels Airport. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. For any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities, please refer to appropriate consular sources.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.