Being Walloon through and through18/08/2018

I was born during the harsh winter of January 1947, accompanied on this new adventure by my twin brother Lionel. Life for my parents was hard; my father worked constantly as a self-employed tailor and my mother was a housewife who took care of her two newborn babies. She had previously lost a 15-day old baby in 1943 due to a lack of penicillin, which at the time was reserved for the German invaders.  His name was Alain, the name given to me four years later.

 Then, like all children, I went to the nursery school located 50 metres from my family home, followed by six years of primary education that I completed with good grades in the cantonal exams, finishing among the top five in my class. I remember that they showed documentary films in the canteen about the Walloon industries of the time: the coal mines, the slag heaps and the steel industry.

When I joined the Athénée Royale after my first two years of secondary education, I was attracted to Art and Culture; that's why I attended the Institut Technique Supérieur de l'Etat, where I was able to take observational drawing classes and learn the different artistic and decorative painting techniques. I left with the Medal of Honour of the City of Mouscron for being the student who obtained the highest grades in the final exams.

I didn't have time to enjoy my holidays as a company boss, who had seen my school work, hired me while still at the door to the Institute, loaded down by my precious book prizes. I remember receiving the prize for the best student of French. That is how I started life as a graphic designer and was able to work for different Walloon companies, including Casterman in Tournai, on the printing of its Tintin album displays.

Then came military service at Le Petit Château. My cultural abilities were noted and so after two months' instruction at the Chièvres Air Base, I was able to extend my stay by two months as a librarian, before being transferred to the Géruzet barracks in Brussels to continue my service, also as a librarian. That was a wonderful opportunity for me, and I was able to continue my education through reading.  

Once my military service ended, I became a father to a little girl, Nathalie, in March 1996; she is now an inspector at the Walloon Economic Service, whose headquarters are in Namur. She previously worked as secretary to the Prime Minister, Elio di Rupo, and then secretary to the Minister-President of the Brussels Region, Charles Piquet.

After a few small jobs, I started working on textile printing through the transfer of printed paper onto fabric and specialised in industrial engraving as an engraver highly specialised in the alteration of printing cylinders (advanced classes in Paris). During this time, I spent a year taking Library Assistant classes in Dottignies, Mouscron, under the auspices of the French Community of Belgium. I passed the exams, which I have to admit were difficult, as at the time we had to know Belgian literature and all foreign literature; as well as the history of books, the history of Art, the history of Music, and of course library science and social legislation on the running of libraries.

The company I worked for closed its doors in 1980. Thanks to my certificate, which authorised me to work in a library, I entered the Maison de la Culture in Mouscron for the first time, where I would take classes in cultural facilitation and give workshops in painting and drawing. Using my previous experience, I developed a silk printing workshop which made it possible to print posters to advertise the different cultural events, as well as earthenware slabs printed with the motifs of different historical buildings in the City of Mouscron. A lettering workshop was also created for hanging banners across the streets to announce sporting and cultural events.

Some time later, the director and playwright Marius Staquet, who was well known throughout Wallonia for his patois plays in the Picard language, noticed me and asked if I wanted to be in charge of the stage design for the decors of his plays and reviews. I willingly accepted and this marked the start of a great new adventure. The plays were disseminated by the RTBF Charleroi, which led to me meeting actor and director André Gevrey, as well as Jacques Dhondt, a set designer at the RTBF who was known among other things for his many sets in "Le Jardin Extraordinaire", "Visa pour le Monde" etc.

Later came the lyrical companies, and I was able to throw myself into creating their stage design. Even the "Schouwburg van Kortrijk" operetta company hired me several times to create its stage designs. The André Chotteau theatre company from Tourcoing (France) also hired me.

In the meantime, I took part in the word games organised by the French Community, where I won awards and every page was printed in 50x70 format, framed and displayed in all the main libraries in Wallonia. One hundred copies of a booklet were printed; the title of this exhibition, also the title of the book, was "PALABRACADABRA" (it can be seen in the archives of the Marius Staquet Centre).

As a designer, working with the Athena Institution in the 1980s and under the guidance of Minister André Liénaert, I was able to design a cartoon whose title was "Technoglut et les mystères de la calculette" (Technoglut and the mysteries of the calculator). 10,000 copies were printed by the publishers Casterman in Tournai and it was distributed to young people.

I retired in January 2007. On 3 December 2008, I landed in Chile to enjoy this wonderful country (that I had visited twice on holiday in 2003 and 2004) and live by the ocean in the seaside town of Viña del Mar. I have been a keen photographer since I was 16, and took advanced classes so I could learn how to use more sophisticated cameras. The workshop by André Boubet was given under the auspices of the l'Alliance Française in Valparaiso-Viña del Mar. There, I met the Delegate General of the Alliance Française foundation, Mrs Nicole Saffaert, who after hearing about my CV, asked if I wanted to become a member of the steering committee of the Viña institution. I accepted and in time became the Chairman.

So there I was involved in Culture again, and I was able to have several discussions with the Wallonia-Brussels Federation of Santiago, whose Delegate General at the time was the wonderful Mrs Anne Lange, now working in Vietnam. This was how I got to meet Minister Rudy Demotte, whom I had previously met in Belgium at the Marius Staquet Cultural Centre and other events. Through trade fairs, I also came into contact with the former President of the BELGOLUX Chamber of Commerce, represented by Mrs Andrea Rojas Van Dyck, and later with Mr Frederik R. Janssens and Mr Alain Kaczorrowsky; and on several occasions with Ambassador Patrick Deveytter and the Belgian Consulate.

I am in constant contact with the Honorary Belgian Consul, Mrs Ruth Engels, of the 5th Region of Chile, and others. Lastly, together with two friends from the Rotary Club of Valparaiso, Mr Bruno Tascheri and Mr Emilio Cardenas (this is very recent as the legal papers were only signed on 16 August), we founded the Francophone Technological Cultural Foundation of Chile, whose express aim is to inform the Universities and Technical Colleges of the cutting-edge technologies in all domains available in Wallonia and other French-speaking countries.

The Rotary Club of Playa Ancha gave us the free use of a functional building in Playa Ancha, in the heart of the university, from which we will soon be able to offer a vision of Walloon and French-speaking expertise in Chile and on every other continent. In 2006 and 2007 respectively, I received the second and first prize in the photography competition in the festival of birds in Chile.

Thank you for taking the time to read this summary of my life and discover the many ways I work with Wallonia.

 

Robert Alain Cattaux.

Secrétario de la Fundación Technologica Cultural francofonica de Chile.

Presidente de la Corporación Cultural de la Alianza Francesa de Valparaíso-Viña del Mar.

Miembro del Consejo de los inmigrantes de Valparaíso.

Bombero Honorario de la Octava Compañía de los zapadores franco chilenos.

Miembro del Club Rotary "El Almendral" de Valparaiso.