On December 1st 2016, Invisible Bordeaux is celebrating its fifth anniversary. Hurrah! And to do...

On December 1st 2016, Invisible Bordeaux is celebrating its fifth anniversary. Hurrah! And to do this in style, the blog has partnered with the good people of Novotel Bordeaux Lac and the Bordeaux Tourist Office… and we’re offering a rather special prize via a contest that we’re running on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

That special prize is (drum-roll, please) two nights’ bed and breakfast accommodation for two people at Novotel Bordeaux Lac, along with two 2-day Bordeaux Metropole CityPass tickets, offering unlimited travel on public transport and reduced rates for guided tours and admission to museums. All the winner (and a person of their choice) has to do is find a way of getting to Bordeaux!

While that information sinks in, do the right thing and head over to the relevant posts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (search for #InvBdx5) before Sunday December 4th, follow the instructions and check back on Tuesday December 6th to find out who has won!

> Contest open to participants worldwide, tickets and hotel voucher valid until December 31st 2017.

A few weeks ago, reader Conchi shared a link on her Facebook page which led to the Institut Nat...

A few weeks ago, reader Conchi shared a link on her Facebook page which led to the Institut National de l'Audiovisuel's website and a delightful if somewhat bizarre short film entitled "Welcome Arthur".

The film serves as an instant journey back in time to Bordeaux as it was in 1962. And, as its central character is an Englishman on a bicycle, Conchi suggested I work on a contemporary remake! This was a challenge that I absolutely had to take on...

Here then is the end-product, which is the result of a fun morning spent in the city with my son Dorian handling camera duties. I hope you enjoy our attempt to a draw parallels between the city as it is today, and as it was 54 years ago!

In the days that followed the recent publication of a piece about the Alhambra concert hall , I w...

In the days that followed the recent publication of a piece about the Alhambra concert hall, I was struck by the number of stories shared by people in Bordeaux, who clearly cherished many happy memories of the venue.

Many of the tales I read were recounted by Philippe Serra (pictured left), one of the contributors to a benchmark book about the local music scene, Denis Fouquet's "Bordeaux Rock(s)". For Invisible Bordeaux, Philippe kindly agreed to talk us through some of the events he attended at this iconic venue, in some cases drawing on his draft memoirs of the 1962-1972 period. Here then are a number of snapshots that will take us back through time, but in each case the backdrop remains the same: we give you the Alhambra.

October 1963: Gene Vincent

"I attended this concert more out of curiosity than because I was familiar with the artist. It turned out to be a pleasant surprise. He may have limped but he was full of energy, clad in leather yet demonstrating heightened sensitivity, he boasted a distinctive and yet almost inexplicable stage presence. At the time we hadn't begun to regularly use the word "charisma", but that is certainly what it was. In my post-war childhood years I had admired Line Renaud before becoming a jazz enthusiast, and I hadn't exactly been drawn to rock'n'roll. By the time I left the Alhambra that night, I had become a rock'n'roll convert, although my faith was still very fragile!"

Chuck Berry, hooked up to his 30-watt Vox amp.
(Picture courtesy of Christian Perez)
March 1966: Chuck Berry

"This was an unmissable event! Memphis Slim, Ronnie Bird, Antoine and Chuck Berry. I was astonished by the latter's energy combined with his notable economy of means: Berry's red Gibson guitar was plugged into a small 30-watt Vox amplifier that wasn't even fed through the house PA. Then again, the Alhambra PA was probably no more powerful than Chuck's Vox amp! Rock concerts still retained a music hall format at the time, with a support bill comprising a host of artists. You would sometimes even see tightrope walkers! If my memory serves me well, the Chuck Berry show opened with a performance by a foot juggler…"

November 1967: Pierre Henry

"Pierre Henry was like some kind of DJ beamed in from the next century, setting up his tape players, mixing desks, amplifiers and what seemed like generators, inside a boxing ring positioned in the middle of the Alhambra's Casino hall. His attitude was unpretentious and down-to-earth, even though he was piecing together an other-worldly concert. Sound was fed through ten separate channels into groups of speakers that formed a sort of magic circle surrounding listeners lying on mattresses. I was there ahead of the event and helped out as best I could with the final fine-tuning, which involved hanging huge sheets from the ceiling down to the floor at strategic points, so as to improve the acoustics of the cube-shaped venue. On the night of the performance, no doubt distracted by the large crowd of excitable youths, I barely noticed that the whole set-up had been shifted into the Alhambra's other hall! Despite its oblong shape, the permanent stage and the balcony which ran around the three other sides, it turns out that the theatre was a better match for the perfect sound which was sought than the ballroom where we had put all our efforts into setting things up.

What still remains with me is the light show which was projected onto the ceiling, the first psychedelic show I'd attended. Scarlet amoebic shapes surrounded by shades of yellow, branching out in all directions against a dark green background. The Paul Henry concert was a strange and captivating personal experience, giving me the impression of being totally immersed within the living art of our time."

November 1967: Living Theatre's Frankenstein

"This was the bravura piece of the outrageous Living Theatre company. They made use of a huge amount of scaffolding which no doubt accounted for much of the ten tons of equipment that their leader Julian Beck spoke of in interviews about the show. This new interpretation of Mary Shelley's classic tale was ideally designed to provide its receptive audience with an unforgettable experience by unparalleled theatrical performers."

November 1969 > Soft Machine

"The Alhambra was almost an embryonic multiplex with its hall, its bar, its lobbies and its two main venues: on one side there was the casino which, other than its small stage featured nothing but a dancefloor; while to the other side was the concert and theatre hall. The large door which separated the two was almost always closed. On this occasion it was open, enabling the public to mill between the two venues to enjoy the "Guinch Experiment" that formed part of the Sigma 5 arts festival. Music-wise, two groups were on the bill: Soft Machine and the Ronnie Scott Band. The use of the twin stages meant the bands could perform simultaneously. The stalls had been removed from the theatre and in the middle of the venue there was a massive inflatable installation that had been conceived by the visual artist Jeffrey Shaw. But I didn't get to see much of the band there as I only had eyes for Soft Machine, who were performing next door. The floor of that venue was entirely covered with balloons and, incredibly, mid-way through the performance, an elephant suddenly appeared; its sole task appeared to be that of going about bursting the balloons! You can imagine the chaos that ensued! Of course, I might not have been quite so surprised at this turn of events had I seen the elephant (on loan from a travelling circus) promoting the unforgettable show in the streets of Bordeaux that afternoon. My most vivid memory of the concert is an intense 20-minute drum solo by a bare-chested Robert Wyatt, who had been given completely free musical rein by his bandmates. 

Left: the Ronnie Scott Band with large inflatable contraption (Sigma archives). Right: Robert Wyatt mid-solo (photo: Anne Lafosse).
This was the first time I'd ever been so close to a musician of this calibre, I could almost reach out and touch him. Even though I remember that he was positioned higher than us on the raised platform, the memory that remains is of him being entirely surrounded by the audience, including myself, and we were all bewitched by his performance!"

November 1979 > The Stranglers 

"This was a couple of years before the release of Golden Brown, but there was already a sense that the Stranglers' punk sound was making way for a more tuneful approach. I listened carefully to this fine band and enjoyed them thoroughly, but I kept a particularly close eye on Jean-Jacques Burnel's legwork. This wasn't because he was the group's resident Frenchman but rather because he was the bassist, and I'd taken up that very instrument. Bordeaux musicians, whatever their level of proficiency, made a point of coming to the Alhambra which for long had been the perfect place to admire the greats, and perhaps to borrow, more or less consciously, new things from them in this permanently-evolving world of rock culture!"

Concert ticket including
 the "quartet" reference.
(Philippe Serra collection)
April 1981 > Larry Coryell quartet

"I appreciated the all-round versatility of the fine guitarist Larry Coryell, who was back in an acoustic period. I had even enjoyed him as a singer on the album The Real Great Escape, but the concert ticket had this date enigmatically billed as the "Larry Coryell quartet". As it turned out, alongside Larry there was another six-string virtuoso, Philip Catherine and even, I seem to recollect, a third guitarist, namely the impressive Paco de Lucía. It was an absolute delight! The Alhambra, in keeping with the Granada reference of its name, always knew how to spring surprises on its audiences!"

November 1981 > Indoor Life, Rita Mitsouko and Bernard Szajner

"As part of the Sigma 17 arts festival, the Alhambra put on a show that gave equal billing to a number of artists: the progressive new wave outfit Indoor Life, whose lineup featured a trombonist - I had already seen them in concert at the Grand Parc salle des fêtes (at the time, US avant-garde artists were very keen on Bordeaux); Rita Mitsouko, a likeable duo whom you never would have thought would later produce a video that achieved worldwide success; and Bernard Szajner, who had invented a laser harp which he demonstrated masterfully. 

Bernard Szajner and his laser harp. (Source/photographer unknown)
Gérald Lafosse, the son of the founder of the Sigma festival, had recognised the immense potential of an innovative light show at the Pierre Henry concert, and had consequently began a career in stage lighting. He worked for Szajner and moved to Paris. When Szajner's laser harp joined Jean-Michel Jarre's setup, Gérald followed suit. And that is how he went on to conceive the atmospheric lighting of the global synth star's colossal concerts in China and elsewhere. Which just goes to show that a straightforward show put on at the Alhambra could ultimately lead to far greater things..."

Cover of the tour programme.
(Philippe Serra collection)
February 1982 > "Les Disques du Crépuscule" artists on tour

"This fashionable record label offered a great lineup of artists on a tour that went by the name of "Some of the interesting things you'll see on a long-distance flight". It included Tuxedo Moon vocalist Winston Tong (from San Francisco), Manchester's The Durutti Column, Richard Jobson (London), Paul Haig (Edinburgh) and the Parisian band Antena. Of the bunch, the one I remember best is Durutti Column, which was essentially the project of a solo performer on guitar. This reminded me of an expression I'd often heard in my youth: "Every Englishman is an island". And I believe that it was, for the punter that I was, my final gig at the Alhambra. "

What is the connection between the 1968 summer Olympic Games in Mexico City and the Gironde to...

What is the connection between the 1968 summer Olympic Games in Mexico City and the Gironde towns of Braud-et-Saint-Louis, Cestas, Lesparre-Médoc and Saint-Médard-en-Jalles? The answer involves swimming… for we give you the remarkable “piscine Tournesol”!

The story goes that, at the 1968 Olympics, the performance of France’s swimmers was particularly disappointing. This resulted in a nationwide action plan that was launched the following year by the State secretary for Youth, Sport and Leisure to bring swimming to the masses. The plan, codenamed “1000 piscines”, provided a structure and support for the construction of affordable pools, which would in turn make swimming more easily accessible.

Although the number of pools built as part of the plan ultimately fell short of the symbolic figure of 1,000, between 600 and 700 establishments reportedly came to be built. Various designs were rolled out, with poetic names such as “Plein-Ciel”, “Plein-Soleil” and “Caneton”, but the most distinctive and memorable was surely the sunflower-inspired “Tournesol”. This became the archetype for the deployment of the “1000 piscines” strategy and, over the course of the 1970s and early 1980s, 183 piscines Tournesol were built throughout France.

The Tournesol pools in Braud-et-Saint-Louis (top) and Cestas.
The curious futuristic design was the work of the architect Bernard Schoeller, who collaborated with the engineer Thémis Constantinidis on the conception of the structure, and with the company Matra for the choice of materials to be employed for what was to be, in essence, mass-produced pre-fabricated units, right down to the filtering and heating systems, the changing rooms and even the lavatories. 

Design and overall concept of the Tournesol pools, as featured on http://www.archi-wiki.org (contributor: Lionel Grandadam).
The circular structure conceived by Schoeller with Constantinidis measured 35 metres from side to side, totalling a surface area of 1,000 square metres at the heart of which was positioned a 25-metre pool. The structure was to be formed by 36 metallic arches, which combined to create a dome which would be six metres high at its apex. The elements that formed the shell were to be made out of polyester, every other segment comprising seven porthole-like windows. Significantly, two of the sections would be mobile, running on a rail system and making it possible to open the roof 60° either way. This resulted in the piscine Tournesol’s most notable feature: the ability to be instantly transformed, whenever the weather permitted it, from an indoor pool into an outdoor pool (at least over a 120° span) bearing in mind that, in most cases, a grassy area would complete the picture, enabling swimmers to head outside and sunbathe between dips in the water.

The rail system which enabled the switch from indoor to outdoor pool status. Pictures taken in Cestas.
After a prototype was successfully built in 1972 in Nangis, to the east of Paris, a first “series-produced” model was opened in Roissy-en-Brie later that year. Both have since been demolished. All of which brings us to la Gironde and its grand total of four piscines Tournesol. Three went up in 1975 in Cestas, Lesparre-Médoc and Braud-et-Saint-Louis. The Saint-Médard-en-Jalles pool followed in 1981. The Gironde pools came in various colours. The Cestas shell was produced in a shade of yellow, while the Braud-et-Saint-Louis and Saint-Médard domes were pale blue. The Lesparre offering was the eminently collectible burgundy (Médoc?) red. But what has become of them?

The Cestas pool is doing very well thank you. It is located on a large sports complex just off the A63 motorway, making for the pleasing sight of swimmers mingling with footballers, rugby players and tennis players. If you want to enjoy a swim there, admission will set you back just €1.60 euros. The Braud-et-Saint-Louis pool is also operational, although there is much talk about its fate and it may soon make way for a more ambitious “centre aquatique” offering smaller pools for toddlers, water-slides and the like.

Scenes from Braud-et-Saint-Louis, including the reception area (top left), the prefabricated changing rooms (top right) and, bottom right, the outdoor foot bath located by the joint between the two moving panels.
If so, it would be replicating exactly what happened in Saint-Médard-en-Jalles where the piscine Tournesol was a shorter-lived venture. In a state of disrepair after 26 years of use, it was dismantled in 2007 to make way for today’s modern swimming complex, which retained the 25-metre pool from its previous incarnation.  

Saint-Médard: the way it was (source: Saint-Médard-en-Jalles, au fil du temps) and the way it is today.
Let’s finish off in Lesparre, where the dust has more or less settled after the recent demolition of the structure, which had come to be regarded as an eyesore for visitors and locals as they drove into this quaint Médocain town. The pool had been closed since June 2014, although the original plan was to refurbish the facility. Then came the news over the summer of 2016 that the pool was to be erased completely, and the €70,000 demolition job was completed in September. As I saw when I visited the site, nothing remains of the pool (other than a small technical unit) and the area has been totally covered in sand. Once again, plans are gradually taking shape for a more substantial swimming complex to serve the surrounding area. 

Lesparre: top right, the pool as it was (source: www.pss-archi.eu); main photo, demolition work in progress (source: www.sudouest.fr); bottom right, the scene today. 
If you’ve been reading carefully, you have therefore no doubt worked out that, of Gironde’s four piscines Tournesol, only two remain, and the future looks particularly uncertain for one of the two! A part of me does think this is a shame, however old-school and rudimentary Tournesol pools may seem in an age of big-thrill water parks. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way: while Gironde’s sunflower pools have fallen into disrepair and become regarded as eyesores, elsewhere they have been meticulously maintained and have even been officially listed as 20th-Century Heritage: the “Patrimoine du XXe Siècle” label has been bestowed on piscines Tournesol in Marseille, Carros-le-Neuf (near Nice) and even in Biscarrosse in Gironde’s neighbouring Landes department. What is more, they are cherished by many in France, with online traces of this affection including regular appearances on the Architectures de Cartes Postales website, and the delightful @laffairetournesol Instagram account.

Laure Manaudou, pictured at the 2004 Olympics,
praying that she would one day be featured in
an Invisible Bordeaux item (source: lemonde.fr).
But perhaps the most important thing to consider is whether the French became any good at swimming! According to online records, after the 1968 debacle, it wasn’t until 1984 that France secured an Olympic swimming medal, through Frédéric Delcourt (200m backstroke silver) and Catherine Poirot (100m breaststroke bronze). Then there were a few more lean years until Laure Manaudou won the 400m freestyle gold in 2004, matched by Alain Bernard in the 100m freestyle in 2008. Others to follow in their footsteps include Camille Muffat (400m freestyle, 2012), the men’s 4x100m relay team (2012), Yannick Agnel (200m freestyle, 2012) and Florent Manaudou (50m freestyle, 2012). So the “1000 piscines” action plan didn’t do so badly after all…

One of the more unusual outings on offer over this year’s European Heritage Days weekend was ...

One of the more unusual outings on offer over this year’s European Heritage Days weekend was a guided tour of the PIC, or Plate-forme industrielle du courrier, the massive postal sorting office that can be found in Cestas, just off the A63 motorway to the west of Bordeaux.

Having often driven past this massive facility, I was particularly looking forward to enjoying the inside view, so there was a definite sense of anticipation as we joined a group to be ushered inside in scenes reminiscent of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. 

Over the past few weeks, you have possibly enjoyed the accounts of the joint Invisible Bordeaux/...

Over the past few weeks, you have possibly enjoyed the accounts of the joint Invisible Bordeaux/Bordeaux 2066 roadtrip to the four corners of la Gironde: north, east, south and west. 

The adventure is now also available as a scintillating Youtube video, so sit back, relax and follow us as we visit the remains of a brothel in Captieux, the wharf in La Salie, admire some boats in Le Verdon-sur-Mer, and study some trees in Saint-Avit-Saint-Nazaire. All you have to do is hit the play button and make sure your internet connection remains stable for the next eight minutes! Enjoy!