Goussainville-Vieux Pays, France

By Charles Platiau

Once upon a time there was a small French village called Goussainville, situated 20 kms (12 miles) north of Paris, with its town hall, its church, its 19th century manor, and only seven small streets. Early in the 20th century the only sounds to be heard came from the church bell, farm animals and the roar of thunder from a passing summer storm. Then came the Great War with the noise of canons. In May 1915 local resident Auguste Denis was killed, in November his brother Henri was killed. This followed in 1916 with the death of his brother Alfred and then in 1917 their brother Julien. A war monument was built with the four brothers’ names among the 32 soldiers from the village who lost their lives. Calm returned until the bombings of World War II. After the Liberation, German prisoners of war worked the fields and life quietly moved along until in June 1973 a Tupolev 144, performing at Le Bourget Air Show, crashed in the village, destroying fifteen homes and a school. A second sound was heard.

Then technicians installed speakers and turned up the sound, to demonstrate to the village residents what to expect with the opening of the future international airport, Roissy-Charles de Gaulle. Too much noise with the runways only 3 kms (2 miles) from the village, added to the fear of potential air crashes. Many residents moved away to a new village, bearing the same name, Goussainville, with a new cemetery. They called the village, “Le Vieux Pays” (Old Settlement), the houses were boarded up, the church closed its doors, the bells silenced, the cemetery would no longer see funerals, and only the rare visitors. Practically a ghost town, frozen in time, where only several die-hards, continue to live. Among them a book store owner, the only shop doing business in the village.

In 1997 the village tried to reawaken, to transform itself into a village of books and crafts, but today Nicolas Mahieu remains the only bookseller, no one came to join in his adventure. Often a day goes by without a single customer in his shop, although business goes on via the internet.

When the Concorde supersonic jet flew over the village following takeoff, residents knew it was 11h00, up until the day in July 2004 when during a routine take off a plane crashed into a neighboring village. The roar of Concorde disappeared forever, but commercial jets continue to graze the rooftops and village dovecote, except on the rare days when the airlines strike or when a volcano in Iceland spewed ash into the sky, closing airports in Europe. Rare days of calm and silence. Residents claim that they no longer hear the noise of jet engines and besides, they use the airport to take trips and contribute to all this racket.

Further away there is also the Le Bourget Airport, a high-speed TGV line, and a motorway. The abandoned houses have fallen into ruin and one after another are torn down. Progress killed the village, but perhaps it can also resurrect it. Tomorrow commercial jets and cars will be electric and much quieter. Then perhaps the church bell will ring out again and the village will reawaken after a long sleep of more than a half century.