French Friday: Chattanooga Part 2

Every July, when I was a kid, my family went camping, either along the Atlantic coast in Brittany or Vendée or still in the Alps or the Pyrénées.

When there, I always started to imagine my life in these unfamiliar beach or mountain towns where we had planted our tent for three weeks.

I would try to spot the local kids. Who were never difficult to distinguish from the vacationers. First they had a tan when we arrived. Then they never looked lost in town. Finally they had friends to go swimming, fishing, hiking, shell combing or just hanging around with. I made friends too over these long summer days but only with the other kids on the campground. So the local kids remained mysterious and I envied them for they lived a life different of mine, in a place that bore little resemblance with my hometown.

During our vacation my parents, my sister, and I always took an after-dinner walk. We passed houses edged by trees that were also different from the ones that grew in Normandy. Other houses were tucked along quiet streets with names that hinted to the region and its history.

During these summers I developed a taste for imagining the other lives that would be mine if I made my home elsewhere.

This tendency has never left me. As much as I’ve loved building a home with my family in each town where we’ve lived, I still envision myself elsewhere when we travel.

In which part of town would I like to live? Where would I go for a walk? What would be my favorite café? Would I get accustomed to the climate, to the different light and air?

If I lived in Chattanooga, for example, this is what I would do:

*I would purchase a membership to the 300-acre Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center.

*Sometimes, to remember that I only borrow the land that is now my home I would go to The Passage, a memorial to the Trail of Tears. The Trail of Tears refers to the forced journey of the Cherokee tribes to Oklahoma in 1838. About 4000 Cherokees died before reaching destination.

*On Sunday, I would go to the market. The Chattanooga Market is supposedly one of the largest in the country. The cherry tomatoes were stunning.

I even received a free re-usable bag with the logo of EPB. Which is one of America’s largest publicly owned electric power providers and also the pioneering communications company that came up with the first Gigabit Internet speeds, crystal clear television and telephone service utilizing a community-wide fiber optic network.

*The pedestrian bridge that links both banks of the Tennessee River would become an instant favorite of mine and I would bike on the thirteen miles of paved trails built along the same river.

*After visiting the Hunter Museum of American Art I’d get coffee at Rembrandt café or at the nearby bakery. Many cafés abound across town for a place the size of Chattanooga.

The Rembrandt café. Photo courtesy Bluff View Art District Chattanooga.

The Bakery

*If out of town friends visited me I would take them to Rock City, in Lookout Mountain (located in the state of Georgia but part of the Chattanooga metropolitan area) and tell them the story behind this walk-through garden with stunning views.

During the Civil War, claims from both Confederate and Union soldiers that one could see the states of Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, and Virginia from the summit of Lookout Mountain surfaced. The seven states claim has never been geographically proven but the view from the summit of Lookout Mountain remains awesome.

In the late 1920s, Garnet and Frieda Carter started to develop a large walk-through garden through their private estate located in Lookout Mountain. Frieda gathered and preserved more than 400 varieties of plants indigenous to the region, earning her national recognition from the Garden Club of America. During the Depression, she and her husband opened their estate to public visit. I was interested to know how anyone during these years of hardship for so many people across the world had been able to do such extensive work and promote it in such a manner that Rock City became soon one of the greatest American private gardens and popular family attractions. I found out that Garnet Carter is the inventor of Tom Thumb Miniature Golf, the father of mini golf. When he sold the right to his patent he used his fortune to build Rock City.

The garden paths take the visitor through massive natural rock formations, abundant flora, on a swinging bridge, through kitsch Fairyland Caverns and Mother Goose Village. And to the 140-foot High Falls as a grand finale.

*I’m pretty sure that my out of town friends would enjoy visiting Ruby Falls.

Like Rock City, Ruby Falls is also the work of a local. Leo Lambert was a cave enthusiast who knew about the Lookout Mountain Cave. This cave had a natural entrance at the foot of the mountain on the banks of the Tennessee River and it was home to Native Americans. Later there were reports of explorers traveling deep into this cave, without reaching the end. In 1905, the Southern Railroad Company constructed a tunnel along the face of Lookout Mountain and through some portions of the mountain for one of its lines. This tunnel sealed off the natural entrance to the cave.

Leo Lambert contemplated the idea to reopen it to the public. With a group of investors he got the idea to drill an elevator shaft from another point on the mountain to access the cave from the surface above. Work began in the fall of 1928. Late December, a worker discovered a void in the rock and felt a gush of air. Upon further inspection an opening was discovered. Lambert, along with a small crew, entered this opening to explore the newly found cave. They discovered a number of unusual and beautiful rock formations, flowing passages and several stream beds. Pushing their way deeper and deeper into the cave, they finally reached the spectacular waterfall. On his next exploration into the cave, Lambert took his wife Ruby along. This is when he told her that he would name the waterfall in her honor. Since it opened to the public in 1935 the Ruby Falls Cave has seen millions of visitors. The place that claims that there is no rain and always a nice 60 at Ruby Falls is quite special, although a major tourist attraction.

In France, I once harvested grapes in Ardèche, where caves abound. I agreed to join some speleologist friends of mine. Let’s just say that I will always favor the top of the mountain to caves.

But the extensive work that has been done at Ruby Falls allows people to visit the caves without crawling. My husband bumped his head a few times but he’s 6’2. I am 5’7 and had only to watch my head a couple of times.

*Once one of the most polluted American cities, Chattanooga is now enjoying clean air, due to many green initiatives.

The Bike Share system, for example, is similar to the one in much larger American and European cities.

The revitalized riverfront with many parks has allowed Chattanooga’s residents to get out and play, and also to host the Ironman 70.3 triathlon.

I love the great outdoors but I’d rather hike than run, take my bike to the library more than on a race and play in the ocean than swim competitively in a river. But. When I saw the men and women crossing the final line, some of them in their late 60s and possibly older, I was awestruck and so proud of them.

Back from Chattanooga, I read Andrea’s blog post Settling. Which is about her uneasiness as she arrives to an unfamiliar place. This is in fact the first post of two. Settling, Part 2 is as great.

“It takes time to settle into a new landscape,” she writes. “There are places in which we don’t belong at all, and some that make us work hard for that belonging.”

“Eventually, the land will begin to reveal itself to me,” she writes later. “This is not an easy landscape, but if I listen I will find my place in it.”

Her words have a deep personal resonance. As I get older I’m aware that I’ve never ceased to look for a place to call home and finally start to realize that home doesn’t necessary mean only one place. I’ve often envied people who’ve never moved for the ease that flows from them, due to their intimate relationship with the landscape they inhabit and the people who populate it. But I’m not one of these people. I will never be. I will continue to find myself home in many places. For the time of one weekend, one month, one year, or more, with more or less success. And I won’t probably ever stop imagining myself in other places. As I did when I was a little girl, then a teenager passing through these unknown French beach and mountain towns.

Steamboats will always evocate the American south to me

Sunset on the Tennessee River


  1. I’ve always wondered if the desire to wander isn’t partly genetic, Evelyne. If we aren’t born to wander. If there isn’t a restlessness in our soul that always moves us on. My family on both sides has a long history of people moving on and people staying at home. I come from the wandering branch. What’s over the next mountain or around the bend always pulls me on, while what’s behind me pushes me forward. –Curt

    • My husband shares your point of view, Curt. I believe that he read an article about the wanderers and the stay-at-home. A genetic trait would be indeed the reason. On my side of the family, very few have moved far from their place of birth. Only one of my cousins and me live abroad. He remained in Europe, though. Interesting that your family seems split as well. Thank you for your visit and comment. Always good to read you.

    • Google “D4-7 allele” and you will find a few references. I personally believe it is way for a tribe to avoid con sanguinary issues in the long term.
      Evelyne’s Husband

  2. All your traveling and wonderful descriptions of places visited will surely come through in your books. You are like Frederick, gathering stories for long winter nights…or in your case for books written and shared with young readers.

  3. I have always imagined living in whatever city I visit. I think it’s part of the fun of traveling, the imagining. It also make me feel a little bit of a part of the place, rather than just being a tourist coming and going.

  4. OK, so I either need to visit this place myself, or become a future out-of-town friend of yours after you move there. Beautiful photos and a very nice way of introducing us to the town.

    • Honestly, I had no expectations, although I had read nice words about the town. I found a place hard at work in terms of becoming clean and turned to the great surrounding outdoors. The natural beautiful landscape helps a lot. A river to me is already creating a gorgeous backdrop. When the city and residents make it part of the daily life with bridges, parks, and trails it’s remarkable. No place is 100% perfect, but I love it when obvious effort is made to blend nature and convenience of town.

  5. Thank you for the shout out Evelyne, I appreciate it 🙂 I’m like you in that I always imagine what it would be like to live in a place and how I would live if I did! I really enjoyed reading about how you would live if you were a Chattanooga resident!

    • Your blog is one of my very favorites, Andrea. I admire your writing and how meaningful your posts are. Often what you write echo my own thoughts. You only express them in a much better way 🙂
      So I had to mention you. Absolutely.

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