The Shuman Show, the part conference/part concert introduction to the life and times career of legendary songwriter and performer Mort Shuma...


The Shuman Show, the part conference/part concert introduction to the life and times career of legendary songwriter and performer Mort Shuman, is making a welcome comeback on Saturday June 1st at 5pm at the Pierre Veilletet library in the Caudéran district of Bordeaux. Don’t miss it!


Over the course of his unbelievable career, the New-Yorker Mort Shuman penned some of the most famous melodies of the late 1950s and early 1960s before he himself became an unlikely pop star in France, releasing hit records such as Le Lac Majeur and Papa-Tango-Charly. He also wrote stage musicals, acted in a number of films, and introduced the music of Jacques Brel to the English-speaking world. Shuman died in 1991 and, as a result of family connections, his final resting place is in Bordeaux.



A few years ago, after researching the Mort Shuman story for the blog, it was developed into the 75-minute Shuman Show, which provides live renditions of the music Shuman wrote throughout his career, interspersed with a number of anecdotes that not only connect to tell the full story, but add extra layers of understanding to the songs themselves. Above all, the Shuman Show is great fun.

For this performance in Caudéran, I will be accompanied by my Slowrush musical partners Olivier on bass guitar and Dorian on percussion, and the event is part of the wider and rather fabulous Tour 33 festival of events and happenings at libraries in and around Bordeaux throughout the month of June. Be there!

Vital information:

> Saturday June 1st at 5:00pm
> Bibliothèque Pierre Veilletet, 21 rue Domion, 33200 Bordeaux (Caudéran district)
> Free admission

OK, the time has come to own up, I love maps. So, as you can imagine, I got quite excited when I heard that some new public artwork had been...



OK, the time has come to own up, I love maps. So, as you can imagine, I got quite excited when I heard that some new public artwork had been installed on Place Marie de Gournay in the nascent "Belvédère" district of Bordeaux, on the right bank of the Garonne, not far from where the Pont Saint-Jean stretches across the river.

The piece is entitled 'La Carte, à l'ombre de la ville' (The map, in the shade of the city) and is the work of Argentinian artist Leandro Erlich. In short, it is a 400-square-metre aluminium canopy held up by 14 five-metre-tall metallic pillars, the contours of which replicate the tree trunks of maritime pines. And, the key selling point is that the artwork is in the shape of a map of the city of Bordeaux, which pleasantly stretches out overhead by looking up, or can also be viewed at ground level when the sun is out!


Initially positioned here in June of 2023 and accessible to the general public since later that year, the public artwork was funded by Fonds Cré’Atlantique, a philanthropic foundation set up by the public real estate developers Bordeaux Euratlantique and local eau de vie/brandy distributors Groupe Bernard. The 20 tons of raw aluminium took on their new shape at the ‘Fusions’ foundry in central France over an 18-month period and when local newspaper Sud Ouest met Leandro Erlich, the artist underlined one of the key messages of the design: “Trees supporting (holding up) the city is a strong symbol in such crucial times for the planet.”

Most importantly, the canopy will physically deliver some much-needed shaded to the residents of this new area, particularly given how this square, despite being surrounded by tall buildings on three of its four sides, will be particularly exposed to la Gironde’s increasingly hot summer sun. Trees have been planted over to one side of the square but the presence of an underground car park has meant that much of the area has had to be left bare of any form of vegetation, almost giving it the raised esplanade yesteryear feel that many associate with the city’s great unloved Mériadeck quarter.

The spookily realistic metallic tree trunks (and some genuine trees in the background).
 
Don't look up. No, actually, do look up.
Now, I may be mistaken here, but the appearance of this new artwork seems to have gone largely unnoticed by the local population, possibly because the “Belvédère” district has been a gradual development rather than appearing overnight. However, when I shared pictures of the piece on social media, instead of the usual lack of engagement I’ve become so accustomed to, on Facebook at least this post was met with a number of comments and shares from people getting very agitated.

The anger was mainly directed at aspects ranging from the overall absurdity of the installation and the mystifying symbol of metallic tree trunks, to the use of aluminium for the canopy, which admittedly could actually amplify the ambient heat when it gets hot. One follower suggested that, given that aluminium is a good conductor of heat but radiates around 95% of the infrared rays it receives, the place could become an ideal barbecue spot! Before long the comments even segued from constructive criticism to becoming politically-charged… when Invisible Bordeaux’s initial intention was just to share a picture of a ground-level shadow in the shape of a map of the city.

Panel complete with QR code and a bite-sized version of the Bordeaux map.
So, what happens next? Are we looking at a sight that in time will prove unpopular and controversial? Or will it become a place that locals will embrace, congregating and socialising under the giant map, all the while looking up and down to see whether they can spot the distinctive silhouette of the boulevards or some other emblematic street in amongst the metalwork?

One thing that I will say is that whenever passing through the area, I feel there is a definite identikit feel to the buildings that have gone up. For instance, there is nothing especially Bordelais about a view such as this one, the picture could honestly have been taken anywhere in the western world.

London? Paris? New York? Munich? Bordeaux's Belvédère district as currently visible on Google Streetview. I plan to return shortly to take an actual picture of this view.
But hey-ho, that’s 21st-century progress. Then again, if progress does also mean producing artwork in the shape of maps, then maybe it’s not all bad. Because did I mention I love maps?

> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: 'La Carte, à l'ombre de la ville', Place Marie de Gournay/Quai Deschamps, Bordeaux.
> And enjoy this informative video providing the background story to the artwork: 


Click here if video does not display properly on your device.

  Are you visiting Bordeaux over the coming weeks? Or do you already live here but feel you should really be getting out and about and explo...

 


Are you visiting Bordeaux over the coming weeks? Or do you already live here but feel you should really be getting out and about and exploring your hometown? Either way, Invisible Bordeaux can help you make the most of the city with these five self-guided walking tours, available as 100% free downloadable PDF guidebooks with detailed maps, explanations and original photography, as well as an optional dedicated Googlemap to help you find your way.


It is no secret that one of the best ways of visiting Bordeaux is, quite simply, on foot. So put on your walking shoes and head over to the dedicated sister bordeauxwalks.blogspot.com website to take in one of the five self-guided walking tours that are on offer in exchange for precisely zero euros and zero personal data!

The five booklets take in Bordeaux's essential landmarks (walk #1), its secret sights (#2), its elegant quarters (#3), its more down-to-earth districts (#4), and the surprising Bastide neighbourhood on the right bank of the Garonne (#5). Each walking tour covers a distance of between 4 and 6 kilometres (i.e. 2 to 3 hours), although there is nothing preventing you from taking a little more time if taking in museums, churches and the like! 

Et tous ces livrets sont également disponibles en français !

So head on over to the Invisible Bordeaux Walks website and get to grips with the city. Enjoy!

Full information and free downloadable PDFs available here: 
https://bordeauxwalks.blogspot.com

For this new episode of the Invisible Bordeaux podcast, we meet Tanguy Coureau, presenter of the HandiSport Go TV programme on France 3 NoA,...



For this new episode of the Invisible Bordeaux podcast, we meet Tanguy Coureau, presenter of the HandiSport Go TV programme on France 3 NoA, for Nouvelle-Aquitaine, where he sets out to discover the region's disabled sportsmen and women and their clubs!

This energetic young man will leave you inspired as he truly demonstrates on a daily basis that anything is possible, even when disabled.


He reveals how his media career began as he stepped off a tall ship from Dublin, shares some highlights and behind-the-scenes tales from his shoots with the Grenouilles Productions team, talks about his day job at communications agency NovaSancO, and reveals his feelings at the start of this Paralympic year... all before unveiling his other big creative project for 2024.


You can listen to the podcast below or else over on SpotifyAmazon MusicApple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Pocket Casts, Podbean and RadioPublic! Be sure to subscribe to the podcast so that you never miss an episode! 


Click here if player does not display properly!


Find out more:


Handisport Go on France.tv

Photos courtesy Tanguy Coureau / Grenouilles Productions / France 3 NoA.

You may remember that a few months ago I sat down and listened to a number of 1970s and 1980s Bordeaux bands as featured on a desirable dou...


You may remember that a few months ago I sat down and listened to a number of 1970s and 1980s Bordeaux bands as featured on a desirable double-CD compilation released by the local music association Bordeaux Rock. Well, it turns out that, around 2006, Bordeaux Rock followed up that first well-received collection with two more twin-CD sets, one celebrating the scene as it stood in 2006, followed by another which rewound back to the artists operating between 1988 and 1998. Once again, I thought it would be interesting to sit down, stick my headphones on, and assess how the well the music had stood the test of time, three decades on.


The package proved promising, featuring disturbing in-your-face artwork by one Caroline Sury, inspiring all-caps introductory notes by Bordeaux Rock lynchpin José Ruiz, and informative mini-biographies of each band (40 in all!). The time capsule was ready to roll, CD 1 was in position, all that remained to be done was to hit "play"!   


Note to younger readers: this is a CD player.
The album opens with the jangly guitars and Velvet Underground overtones of Soap, and the wide sonic expanses of Mary’s Child, both of whom suggesting much of the Bordeaux scene had already moved on from its 1980s fixation with punk to a more grungey indie pop atmosphere. We are four tracks into the compilation before a first French-language song makes an appearance, in the shape of the funky, organ-driven Donald Raccrocha Sans Répondre by Mr Kuriakin, a vehicle for the songs of Paco Rodriguez, who had previously been with moderate hitmakers Gamine. 

I then find it quite heartwarming to hear a track by Charming Boys, a tuneful band who were heavily influenced by The Smiths. In a previous life I may even have been in a group who performed alongside them on a couple of occasions. At the time they were on a bit of a high having recently supported the up-and-coming Blur, and they did rightly gain a solid reputation as a tight live band - if anything the track that features here, What a Way of Life, is little more than a solid live arrangement immortalised on disc. Not sure what became of them but it would have been interesting to hear what they would have achieved if they’d been able to develop into a more highly engineered/produced studio band.  


The accompanying booklet is genuinely interesting to peruse.
Lemon Curd’s strummy offering, Freezin’ Manchester, reminds me a lot of Lloyd Cole or low-key Prefab Sprout. That can be regarded as a compliment! A few tracks down the line, Pimple Shame definitely score points for the best band name so far, Nuer avoid language barriers completely by delivering an instrumental (three of the four musicians are credited as playing sequencers, which is a bit scary), ahead of the energetic Real Atletico also staking a claim to the best band name on the compilation. They apparently featured a mandoline player mysteriously called Pierre "Suspense" Emery. I manage to pick out a bit of his playing deep in the mix and it makes me feel strangely happy. 



There is more pleasingly melodic pop on its way in the shape of Bonjour Chez Vous's Je Veux Être Sous La Mer, complete with heavily chorused arpeggio guitar and twinkly synthbells all very much of their time. It's all very polished and tuneful but comes with an added sense of poignancy upon this listen given the knowledge that singer Thierry Sabir - who later collaborated with the aforementioned Paco Rodriguez in Sitarsonic as well as releasing his own solo album, Apollopop - sadly passed away at the very end of 2023. Rest in peace, Thierry.



Bordeaux’s biggest musical export from that period, Noir Désir, feature next with Un Jour en France from their fourth album. It sounds very big and a class above the rest, but still today it’s difficult to listen to the band without one’s mind wandering back to the life-altering events that took place in 2003. Disc 1 closes with Tortilla Flat, who I am excited to read are reminiscent of XTC and Bowie. Listening to their track Walking, taken from their sole release, a 3-track cassette (different times…), there is indeed a definite hint of Bowie in singer Jérémy Vacances’ vocal delivery… and even a bit of the Silencers in the harmonica lines!    



The second half kicks off with Sleeppers and a hardcore track that feels a bit like being stuck up close to some radical roadworks with no safety earmuffs within easy reach. But I’m already looking forward to the "duo iconoclaste" (in the words of the booklet) coming up on track 4. It’s the (literal) drum’n’bass jazz core pairing of Belly Button, made up of Fred Bourdil and Franck Stofer, both of whom I knew back in their student days. They went on to make a name for themselves as festival favourites around the world. Belly Button actually reformed a few years back but, from what I can make out, Franck is now head of coordination and development at le Grand Palais Immersif in Paris, while Fred remains an active musician living locally, performing as the Fredovitch One-Man Band and collaborating with formations including King Khan & The Shrines and Ardi’town. The track that features here, Mister Hamster, is 1’58’’ of pure energy. I suspect that when they were recording the song they were bare-chested and drenched in sweat, but I may be wrong.


It remains similarly raucous throughout much of disc 2, culminating first in Glu vocalist Pierre Poirier shouting into the mic like there’s no tomorrow, to the backing of fellow band-members Yvon Tutein and Bruno Lacaussague, the latter amusingly credited with "guitare approximative". The liner notes refer to their "textes en français et assumés" as if bands at the time had to almost apologise for singing in French, which goes some way towards explaining why so few tracks on this compilation are in la langue de Molière. This performance is equalled by Petit Vodo, a solo musician who would apparently simultaneously play drums, guitar, sing and throw in occasional harmonica, and reportedly garnered critical acclaim in Japan. 



We’re now up to track 16 and TV Killers' Channel 666 in which I can hear hints of Beastie Boys, but by now it’s all so relentlessly relentless that I’m kind of wishing the album was over so I can switch to some serious easy listening (I have a sudden desire to put on some Carpenters). I finally make it through to the closing track by blues rockers Art 314, described in the liner notes as the "house band" at legendary venue Le Jimmy. It’s almost a relief when their upbeat song, The Race, the title track from their only album, comes to an end. 


The tracklisting in full.

What then is the verdict? Well, for a start, I think this is a compilation that is best enjoyed when dipped into rather than listened to from start to finish. That hair-raising succession of slightly soundalike bands all trying to out-yell each other on disc 2 is certainly something I’m struggling to un-hear, but there were enough melodic rays of light elsewhere to make the set well worth digging out. Another thing that is striking, other than the shortage of French-language lyrics, is how predominantly male the bands are. From what I can make out, only a handful of the featured artists had women in their ranks (Charming Boys, Kim et Marie, Skullduggery, Basement, and Wunderlich Ausgang, I think that's all). It is therefore ironic that the cover artwork should depict a female singer, but perhaps there’s something I’m not quite getting here. 


Still, once again it’s great to be able to travel back in time to explore the local music scene as it was in the 1990s, so fair play to the Bordeaux Rock team for putting the compilation together; it serves as an excellent record of the ways things were, which appear to have been mainly gritty, energetic, raucous at times, but overall quite dark and earnest. Anyway, right now, in order to recover, I’m off to listen to some Carpenters. 


If you would like to purchase and listen to the album yourself, copies are available online from the Bordeaux Rock website, priced €10.
> Join the Bordeaux Rock 1977-87 listening party!
> Ce dossier est également disponible en français ! 

The Invisible Bordeaux podcast is back after being away for some time! (Hurray!) In this comeback episode, we catch up with Yann Le Cor, bet...


The Invisible Bordeaux podcast is back after being away for some time! (Hurray!) In this comeback episode, we catch up with Yann Le Cor, better known as Papa Yann, the man behind Enfant Bordeaux, which started out as a site listing kid-friendly activities and has developed into a much wider offering including a bona fide guidebook, a label, an active online community, and much more!

Let's get to know about this professional blogger and his quest for events, addresses and tips to pass on to parents! The podcast covers the Enfant Bordeaux philosophy, how Yann became a professional blogger, the breakdown of who his followers are, some memorable encounters, and the reasons why Yann is now seeking to build a network of bloggers who make things happen in Bordeaux!


You can listen to the podcast below or else over on SpotifyAmazon MusicApple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Pocket Casts, Podbean and RadioPublic! Be sure to subscribe to the podcast so that you never miss an episode! 


Click here if player does not display properly!



Find out more:


Enfant Bordeaux website

Friday September 22 2023 was an unusual day in Bordeaux. From the off there was a sense of occasion and with good reason: Bordeaux was hosti...


Friday September 22 2023 was an unusual day in Bordeaux. From the off there was a sense of occasion and with good reason: Bordeaux was hosting King Charles III and Queen Camilla on the closing leg of the State visit which began two days earlier in Paris. One of the focal points of the day was the Great festival held on Place de la Bourse and, guess what, I was there to soak up the atmosphere!


To say the royal agenda in Bordeaux was dense would be an understatement. In a little under six hours they managed to meet and greet local dignitaries at the City Hall (and planted a tree alongside Bordeaux mayor Pierre Hurmic), salute the Marines on board HMS Iron Duke, ventured to Martillac to view the organic working methods of Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte… and while Charles visited the experimental urban forest development in Floirac, Camilla split to see how the good people at Le Pain de l’Amitié are providing food for those in need. 


And, in the midst of all that, the Place de la Bourse had been converted into a pop-up festival to promote much of what the UK does well (as part of the Great Campaign) as well showcasing a number of Bordeaux initiatives and companies, all to the live soundtrack of hand-picked up-and-coming artists, both local and from the UK. 

Place de la Bourse in festival mode. Note the umbrella, it came in useful.

It is a little unclear precisely what the criteria for attendance were (we had all received personal invitations from the UK embassy in France) but it made for a delightful and sometime surprising cross-section of the Bordelais and expatriate population. Ahead of me in the queue to get in were some extremely tall and wide Union Bordeaux-Bègles rugby players. Male and female Girondins football players were there in their club tracksuit tops (along with coach David Guion). A little further I recognized the influential local artist Jofo. There were a number of people in uniform, sometimes sporting impressively bushy sideburns. Oh, and could that be the entire Fiji rugby team, whose World Cup base just happens to be in Lormont? Different cultural universes colliding. 


Once "inside" the Place de la Bourse, which is usually such a familiar open-access spot, it was incredible to see how the square had been momentarily transformed, framed by a number of tents housing UK and Bordeaux brands such as Paul Smith, Gilbert, and Baillardran, initiatives such as the inspiring Le Café Joyeux, a company which has conceived wine bottles made from paper, cheeses from a local épicerie, and stands promoting UK tourism, cultural and educational drives. (My favourite exhibit was a life-size (?) Shaun the Sheep... although spotting Paddington wandering around the event wasn't bad either...) 

A massive stage was the centrepiece of the event, although much of the crowd wasn’t really paying much attention to the artists who were performing (Tyrone Isaac Stuart and Rianne Downey), despite the valiant bilingual attempts of compere Darren Tulett (the TV presenter and football pundit). And then the music stopped… 


Tram-spotting.

For, the time had come, a tram sporting diminutive Union flags pulled up to the Place de la Bourse stop and there was a collective sense of hushed anticipation as the Royal delegation alighted and moved its way along the red carpet which had been laid out over the square’s cobblestones (a wise move given that the intermittent showers had made for a slippery surface!). UK foreign secretary James Cleverly rushed past me virtually unrecognized, that is how focused everyone was on Charles and Camilla… or mainly, to be honest, on Charles, who took time to make his way through the crowd, stopping to chat with one or two lucky onlookers, including one person stood right next to me, giving me plenty of time to take some once-in-a-lifetime closeup shots! In the meantime the PA had picked up again, making for the strange combination of a royal walkabout to the sound of Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill. 

As the party made its way around part of the pop-up marketplace, local solo artist I Am Stramgram began a short set, battling with technical issues and general indifference but providing a memorable performance that closed with an interesting reinterpretation of the Beatles’ Yesterday. I managed to catch up with him afterwards and we agreed that it was a fairly surreal experience for him but that it would go down as an unusual and virtually unique line on his musical CV! 


I Am Stramgram, providing the Royal walkabout soundtrack.

By now, the Royal party had made its way to the main stage and UK Ambassador to France Menna Rawlings made a well-received speech (name-checking the local family she had stayed with when she attended courses at the Alliance Française in the city) before handing over to Pierre Hurmic, who good-humouredly saluted the King and Queen, underlining how Charles’s environmental concerns were a long-standing constant. The crowd then eagerly awaited a few words from the King himself. He edged towards the mic, silently mouthed something or other (I’m not great at lipreading but I think it might have been "Wasn’t I Am Stramgram great, sorry he’s ended up standing next to James Cleverly") and gave a wave. That was a momentary anticlimax but he was soon forgiven, he did have a plane to catch, after all. 


And then came what was arguably the unexpected (and possibly unplanned) high point. As the Royal party reached ground level once again, the entire Fiji rugby team congregated nearby, Darren Tulett was told to switch off the PA music, and the players broke into a traditional Fijian folk song. In perfect harmony. It was beautiful and inspired. Everyone had goosebumps. 


As Charles and Camilla moved on to their next engagements, another surprise was in store. Over to another corner of the square, the band of the Royal Marines were settling into position, bringing singer-songwriter Caity Baser's set to a momentary close. Before you knew it they were parading up and down the square providing 15 minutes of world-class marching band music. From my vantage point it was possible to enjoy the ensemble while also being able to focus on individual instruments and parts as they walked back and forth. Can I mention goosebumps again? 


Ladies and gentlemen, it's only the Royal Marines band. In Bordeaux!

The festivities had not yet come to a close but most attendees had already left, making for a strange, other-worldly atmosphere when Bilbao King Fu took to the stage. They had a handful of people in front of the stage, and a few enthusiastic punters stationed to the wrong side of the barriers way over on the other side of the square. It must have been a strange experience for them but they delivered. 


As the crowd had dwindled I was easily able to locate my Consulate acquaintance who I was able to personally thank for the invitation to attend this unique and memorable event. Other than all of the above, I don’t think I will ever again be able to say that over the course of a single afternoon I was able to openly chat to real, live Girondins footballers about recent results and prospects for the season; personally thank local music mogul Eric Roux for the Ouvre La Voix festival and the fantastic concerts he puts on at Rock School Barbey; talk to renowned wine author Jane Anson about Twitter (X) algorithms only to be interrupted by the sound of two Rafale fighter jets flying overhead; observe Fiji rugby players enthusiastically tucking into complimentary Tyrrells crips… and, yikes, I even got my very own selfie with Darren Tulett! Oh, and I also happened to see the King and Queen of my home nations. It really was quite an afternoon… Thanks to everyone who was part of it and made this incredible event happen!

Girondins, crisps and Darren Tulett, what a combination.


P.S. This unique day had started off with a live early-morning radio interview on France Bleu Gironde, talking about the Royal Visit and some of the background and its political context. You can view it here: 



 

Not long ago at the remarkable Emmaüs charity outlet in Parempuyre, I picked up a couple of out-of-print books by the historian Pierre Décam...

Not long ago at the remarkable Emmaüs charity outlet in Parempuyre, I picked up a couple of out-of-print books by the historian Pierre Décamps (1912-2004): 1940-1944, la Gironde en Images (published by SODIM in 1977) and Bordeaux sous l’occupation (Ouest France, 1983). Both feature some incredible photographs documenting Bordeaux during the Second World War. I set off in search of the same locations in order to merge the 1940s and the 2020s in single shots. The accompanying captions are adaptations of the information shared by Pierre Décamps in the books, all original photos were credited to the Bordeaux Centre Jean Moulin collection.

The disturbing sight of the swastika flying outside the Gironde préfecture on Cours du Chapeau-Rouge, which housed the German army central command centre. The contrast with the massage parlour which is now next door is striking.
These ladies seem to be enjoying their city-centre stroll past fortified shelters and blockhouses built by the Germans at the base of Pey-Berland tower…
During the Second World War, le Théâtre Français (now CGR Bordeaux Le Français cinema) was a cinema which was reserved for German army soldiers, hence the "Soldaten Kino" sign (Soldiers' Cinema).
"French [citizens]... Listen every day to the voice of the Reich". German Information Service sign in front of the Jardin Public terrace.
Place de la Bourse: the British bombardment on the night of December 8-9, 1940 certainly left its mark. 
The caption provided by Pierre Décamps states that "This German billboard, installed on Place de la [1918] Victoire in Bordeaux, indicates the victorious march of the German armies in Russia and the location of the battlefields where the Soviet armies were annihilated in 1941."

It’s all about the bronze: removal, on December 6, 1941, of the bronze statue of former president Sadi Carnot, erected on Place Jean-Jaurès. 

Next to the now empty plinth, the sign reads "By working in Germany, you'll be an ambassador for French quality".

French citizens enrolling to work for Germany show up at the "Bureau de placement", 103, rue Sainte-Catherine.
August 28th 1944, a group of "Maquisard" Resistants from the Blaye area pictured on Rue Esprit-des-Lois in Bordeaux (the road that runs alongside the Grand Théâtre opera house), just as the city was being liberated. 
August 28th 1944, Bordeaux students celebrating the city’s liberation. At the head of the procession, the sign proclaims "À poil les Fritzous, vive les étudiants" (which could be conservatively translated as "the Germans have been disrobed, long live the students"). 
Members of the FFI (Forces françaises de l’intérieur) are celebrated by a crowd of happy onlookers on Place Gambetta. 
Dancing in the street: the effigy of a German soldier hangs outside the headquarters of the General Student Association on Cours Pasteur. You can sense the joy in this picture, and no, we're not necessarily talking about the adult shop over to the right! 


We are in the Saint-Genès district of Bordeaux, not far from the boulevards, visiting the unusual complex that is la Maison Saint Louis Beau...


We are in the Saint-Genès district of Bordeaux, not far from the boulevards, visiting the unusual complex that is la Maison Saint Louis Beaulieu, the diocesan home of the Catholic Church in Gironde. Open to the general public, the Maison is a surprising place to behold… particularly its chapel, library and pleasant grounds.

 

The history of Maison Saint Louis Beaulieu goes back to the mid-19th century when the Carmelite religious order set up a convent and a chapel, with hermitages dotted around the grounds. In the early years of the 20th century, the Catholic diocese rented the premises to house a seminary, purchasing the land and existing buildings in 1910. Over the following decades, the condition of the property gradually worsened until a full reconstruction began in 1937 to the plans drawn up by renowned architects Louis and Marcel Garros. This resulted in the main building, which still stands tall and proud today, and the intriguing art deco chapel (pictured below), consecrated in 1946 by the Apostolic Nuncio to France, Monsignor Angelo Roncalli, later to become Pope John XXIII.
 


Unusually, the chapel’s configuration has rotated 180° over the years, with the main entrance initially being street-side, on Rue Saint-Genès, but access now solely being possible via the cloister. The Parisian artists Jean Gaudin and Louis Mazetier provided the decorative touches of the chapel’s mosaics and tiling. The stained glass windows all seem laden with cryptic references. One, for instance, comprises the coats of arms of the city of Bordeaux but also of Bazas, which along with the dioceses of Agen, Angoulême also sent their students to Saint Louis Beaulieu from 1955 onwards. The organ was manufactured by the German company Merklin in 1892 (its most recent overhaul occurred in 2017) and was in the original chapel.
 

The street-side view and what used to be the main entrance to the chapel (situated behind what is now the altar).

Beyond the pretty cloister/courtyard and the café-restaurant (see lead photo at top of page), a door leads to the library of the Bordeaux diocese, home to some 90,000 books about religious science stored across over four kilometres of shelving. Usually the reading room alone is open to the general public, but our visit tied in with the European heritage days so we were given a glimpse of the inner workings of the library and some of its oldest and most prized possessions.
 


From there on into the peaceful grounds, tucked away behind the main building. The first most prominent sight is a modern metallic work of art, 'le Chêne de Mambré', produced by Bordeaux artist Christophe Conan. Beyond its aesthetic delights and its designated role as a “meeting place”, the tree features on its leaves the names of benefactors who helped fund the renovation work carried out here in recent years.

Christophe Conan's 'Le Chêne de Mambré'.

Wandering on through the grounds, other than the vegetable patches, herb gardens, and compost heaps, there is an old chapel to be spotted here, a chicken run there, and the inevitable statue of the Virgin Mary, which apparently fell on bad times in recent years. It was smashed to smithereens by unknown night-time intruders and had to be meticulously rebuilt from scratch by an expert at the Louvre museum in Paris. The ultimate 3D puzzle!

Scenes from le Jardin de Beaulieu.
As grumpy as they appear to be, the Madonna and Child actually look as good as new after their recent mishap.

My time here also enabled me to find the exact vantage point to be able to reproduce the view on an old postcard I’d picked up many moons ago before even knowing where the picture had been taken. The postcard, which is captioned overleaf as “Grand Séminaire de Bordeaux - Grand Bâtiment”, includes a hand-drawn circle indicating the postcard-writer’s room – who was the mystery resident at the time? To know just a touch more, the text of the postcard is included at the foot of the article!
 


Although the living is clearly very gentle here, Maison Saint Louis Beaulieu remains a very active place, and is arguably as dynamic as ever. Other than the aforementioned facets, its website also refers to it being home to the Pey Berland training institute, a number of meeting rooms (which can be rented out for seminars and the like), a bookshop (La Procure Beaulieu), and the studios of the RCF Bordeaux catholic radio station. And the café is as pleasant a place as any for a quiet afternoon cup of tea or similar!
 

Oh, and one more thing: who exactly was Saint Louis Beaulieu? Well, Louis was born in 1840 in Langon near Bordeaux and went on to be ordained as a priest at the Overseas Missions Seminary in Paris in 1864. He ended up stationed in the mountains near Seoul, Korea, where the presence of foreigners was forbidden. Denounced and arrested, he was executed six months short of his 26th birthday. More than a century later, he and others who met the same fate in Korea were canonized by Pope John Paul II.


> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Maison Saint Louis Beaulieu, rue Saint-Genès, Bordeaux.
> Official website: espacebeaulieu.fr
> Thanks to students from the Archimuse association who organised this European Heritage Days visit in 2022.
> Here is the text of the undated postcard in full (presumably, Miou was a cat...): 

 Mon cher Jean-Pierre. Cette vilaine carte t'apporte mon bon souvenir pour ton anniversaire. J'espère que tout va bien à Lyon. Ici ça va. On termine l'année. Je te fais donc un méga bise, ainsi qu'à Miou et je prie bien pour vous. Fafa.

My dear Jean-Pierre. This ugly card brings you my best wishes for your birthday. I hope all is well in Lyon. Things are fine here. We're ending the year. I send you and Miou a big kiss and I'm praying for you. Fafa.

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