The small village of Puynormand - and its unusual claim to being the centre of the northern hemisphere - has twice featured on the Invisib...


The small village of Puynormand - and its unusual claim to being the centre of the northern hemisphere - has twice featured on the Invisible Bordeaux blog. It was only really a matter of time before the subject made its way into a song produced by my group Slowrush… and here it is, along with a spectacular video: we give you X Marks The Spot! 

X Marks The Spot, which is the lead track on the new Slowrush E.P., Navigation & Time, is the story of two of my trips to the spot where the Greenwich Meridian and the 45th Parallel North converge, i.e. the place where east meets west mid-way up the northern hemisphere.

While there is something very tongue-in-cheek about the track and the way the band appear to get quite excited about something that doesn’t physically exist, it is also a very affectionate nod in the direction of friend of the blog André Stanghellini and the work he has done to raise awareness of Puynormand’s unique status, resulting in a signpost and information panel going up in recent years. 

So join Slowrush as we embark on our mission to the centre of our hemisphere, and find out what it is like to perform a sax solo and enjoy drinks where these important invisible lines converge! 

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

> You can listen to the full Navigation & Time E.P. on the Slowrush Bandcamp page here, or on the streaming platform of your choice by clicking here. 

Every so often the hustle and bustle of central Bordeaux can get just a little bit overpowering, wouldn’t you say? When that happens there c...

Every so often the hustle and bustle of central Bordeaux can get just a little bit overpowering, wouldn’t you say? When that happens there can surely be nothing more refreshing than taking in the delights of the city’s biggest green wall. We therefore give you Square Vinet… just a stone’s throw away from the perpetually buzzing Rue Sainte-Catherine and Place Camille-Jullian.

The tiny and quiet plane-tree-lined square, which runs between Rue du Cancéra and Rue Vinet, dates from the 1970s following on from the demolition of a row of run-down buildings. The turning point came in 2005 with the addition of its key selling point, namely the unusual – and really quite pretty – 100-metre-long (or 400-square-metre) green wall, as part of a substantial overhaul that cost €540,000. The work proved controversial at the time, but (if contemporary media coverage is to be believed) that was mainly because the old-school swings were replaced by more modern children’s activities! “Beau mais trop intello” (pretty but high-brow), headlined the local newspaper Sud Ouest!

Square Vinet in all its splendour.

But let’s get back to our green wall… then again, what exactly is a green wall? Well, Wikipedia notes that “A green wall is a vertical built structure intentionally covered by vegetation. Green walls include a vertically applied growth medium such as soil, substitute substrate, or hydroculture felt; as well as an integrated hydration and fertigation delivery system. They are also referred to as living walls or vertical gardens, and widely associated with the delivery of many beneficial ecosystem services.”

The Square Vinet green wall was initiated as part of a city-wide strategy regarding the planting of trees and vegetation led by landscape gardener Michel Desvignes. The actual conception of the wall was, according to the city’s website, “the fruit of the scientific research and artistic talent of the botanist Patrick Blanc (the man who also designed the green wall to be spotted at Paris’s Musée des Arts Premiers Quai Branly), all of which was no doubt enthusiastically rolled out by Bordeaux’s team of gardeners.

Some of the very green greenery to be spotted. 

The wall comprises a wide variety of plants whose “textures and colours are well-adapted to the fun environment of a children’s playground”. And yes, the square is still home to a small number of features (a small slide and unidentified things on springs) designed to keep the neighbourhood’s younger citizens occupied! What more could one ask for?

But even for child-free visitors the small square makes for a refreshing discovery, and the contrast between the Vinet green wall (Elie Vinet, by the way, was an eminent 16th-century Bordelais professor, historian and writer) and the limestone of the surrounding buildings is striking.

Wall to wall contrast.

Meanwhile, it might be noted that the Vinet green wall is not alone in the city, another can be enjoyed in the Mériadeck quarter, along the sides of the council meeting room of the Bordeaux Métropole building. Here, the added bonus is the surrounding fishpond and abstract bronze sculpture produced by François Cante-Pacos (and yes, there are even some lovely goldfish to be spotted!). 

The hanging gardens of Bordeaux Métropole's salle du conseil. Check out the goldfish (bottom right)! 

There have also been less successful green wall ventures in Bordeaux, notably on Cours de la Martinique where a residential building sported short-lived greenery that ran across the balconies of each apartment, once again to the designs of Patrick Blanc. Upkeep and maintenance proved difficult, and the water drainage system was ineffective; during cold spells this resulted in frost-related damage to the balconies and dangerously icy pavements at ground level. In 2012, just five years after being installed, the Cours de la Martinique’s hanging gardens were therefore already making headlines for all the wrong reasons in Sud Ouest. A few years on, the building’s balconies are now ominously smooth and free of plants!   

> Find them on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Square Vinet and Bordeaux Métropole building and green wall, Bordeaux.
> Ce dossier est également disponible en français. 
> Big thanks to Mathias Cisnal (author of Mériadeck - Parcours en ville) for his useful clarifications regarding the Mériadeck green wall! 

I’m no longer sure how this occurred, but I somehow came across a 2019 social media post announcing the installation of some new and highly ...

I’m no longer sure how this occurred, but I somehow came across a 2019 social media post announcing the installation of some new and highly unusual public bookcases (or "boîtes à livres") in various locations around the pleasant town of Eysines, as handily detailed on a map available on the municipality’s website. What makes most of the Eysines bookcases unusual is that rather than simply being angular wooden structures, each unique design reflects the surrounding area and was lovingly hand-crafted by members of the municipal technical teams. Needless to say, this clearly demanded a low-key Sunday morning cycling roadtrip!  

Of course, the basic premise of public bookcases is straightforward: come along, browse a little, ideally deposit a book and, in return, take one home with you. For the purposes of this project I adapted that rule to my roadtrip format, initially contributing a book to the Eysines collection, and then at each bookcase selecting one that I would leave at my next stop, forming a bit of a input/output book chain. To begin the process, the book I dropped off at the first public bookcase was the very Invisible Bordeaux-friendly Grandir à Bordeaux dans les Années 1940 et 1950 by Véronique Cardinal. What publication would I be taking home ten stops along the line?

My first public bookcase was in the shape of a vintage "Eysines Bourg" tram, positioned here just slightly ahead of the neighbouring tram line D "Eysines Centre" stop entering into service. The bookcase was in good condition and offered a fair selection of books. This was also my first experience of the accomplished handiwork of Eysines’ municipal staff: I realized the hinges of the doors contained a strong spring mechanism so that when released the doors would automatically close upon themselves. Neat and clever. I swapped my Véronique Cardinal book for some classic literature that would take me back to my university years: Balzac’s Le Père Goriot

Stop number two was in the leafy Bois du Derby, the name of which may or may not be a reference to the nearby horse-racing track. In the shape of a colourful tree, the bookcase comprises two little houses to store books, one at adult height and the other at child height.

The latter was ominously empty… and the springy doors were no more. For some reason this triggered my inner politician and Le Père Goriot was replaced by Anna Cabana’s Un Fantasme Nommé Juppé.

The third boîte à livres was a little more difficult to track down, situated within the confines of a residential set of buildings (Résidence les Cottages), by the side of a children’s play area and a small-scale football pitch. 

Despite a hand-written notice requesting some communal goodwill, this bookcase was clearly in need of some tender loving care… and was conspicuously empty save for a weather-beaten children’s picture book. I opted to leave things as they were. 

Then it was on to Place Florale which, on a Sunday morning, is a hive of activity because… it’s market day! Hurrah! So I was met with crowds of people stocking up on various foodstuffs at what is known as Marché de Migron, with the smell of roast chicken in the air and all soundtracked by an amplified busker singing old Bob Dylan tunes in approximate English. The Place Florale public bookcase is a delightful beast (although it too is short of its protective doors), in the shape of an old Citroën utility van. Is this a reference to a specific Citroën van or does it simply hint at the market sellers who set up their stalls here every weekend? 

Certainly, the day I was there, there were obvious parallels with the camper van parked alongside selling tomato plants! Stopping here also served as my first chance to see a remarkable new piece of public art, a bronze sculpture by Ibai Hernandorena depicting three disabled local youths. The piece entitled "Jéremy, Germain et Olivier" and which you can read about by clicking here, possibly deserves its own Invisible Bordeaux article! I set off, now with John Gray’s Mars et Vénus Sous la Couette safely lodged in my bag. 

I was now heading to le Bois Gramond, which is a pleasant area of greenery tucked in among residential streets and flanked to the north-west by the Rocade ringroad. From what I could make out during my short stay, the park is a bit of a joggers’ and dog-walkers’ paradise. It also features arguably the most ambitious of Eysines’ public bookcases: a walk-in hut with well-stocked bookshelves on all sides and an invitation to enjoy the setting at all times of year, with each side of the hut recalling one of the four seasons.

Porthole windows on the outside world complete the picture. It really is most excellent. I swapped my sex therapy self-help book for Denis Guedj’s Le Théorème du Perroquet, simply because I liked the title and the cover.

Next up was a zebra-themed bookcase which, like its les Cottages counterpart, was a touch more difficult to find, hidden away in amongst the packed car parks of the Grand Louis residential complex. Once again I chose to travel back in time to my student years, opting for Sartre’s Huis Clos.   

There were barely 400 or 500 metres to cover before reaching the next public bookcase, simply described on the map as being "à côté des écoles". It was actually fairly easy to locate. Its design was possibly not the most exciting but it did come with its own unexpected bonus: an unobstructed view of local baseball team les Raiders in competitive action.  

After being momentarily taken down to the ballgame I concentrated on my next item of reading material: Sept Années Perdues by George Bellairs.

I was now headed to "la Maison Guy Queyroi", which appears to be some kind of modern multi-purpose building with meeting rooms for local associations and the like. Its public bookcase, which is to be found outdoors but sheltered from the elements, is very much a conventional design, but what it lacks in originality it more than makes up for in terms of supply. This is clearly a hotspot of lending/borrowing and it was quite literally overflowing with books to choose from. I opted for some user-friendly espionage with a saucy cover: Serge Laforest’s À Bout de Patience.

Moving on, I could very easily have completely missed the entrance to my next destination, the Parc du Limancet. Cycling past the first time, the metal gate appeared not just closed but locked. It was only doubling back that I noticed there happily was a legitimate way of creeping around the gate and into this pleasant woodland area. Once in I was afraid it might be difficult to locate the bookcase but I soon spotted it, alongside a large barn. It didn’t need a character from a Serge Laforest spy novel to spot the similarity between the two, the bookcase is basically a tiny version of its functional neighbour!

The books on display were a little disappointing, I eventually chose to go for a solidly-reliable, crowd-pleasing steamy tale from the Harlequin "Série Tentation" collection of books: Lee Magner’s Vos Désirs Sont des Ordres.       

My final stop was now in sight, by the children’s play area in the wide open spaces of the Domaine du Pinsan… which has already made an appearance on the blog in one of my occasional articles about air disasters. There’s very much a child-friendly feel about the colourful design of this tenth bookcase, which features big, expressive eyes (bizarrely topped off by eyelashes that are actually positioned above the character’s eyebrows), and two sets of sharp teeth framing the two shelves of books. The bookcase seems angry, or hungry, or possibly both.  

Once again, the choice of books available wasn’t brilliant but in the ended I opted for Michel Déon’s Un Taxi Mauve, a 1973 novel set in Ireland which was later turned into a movie directed by Yves Boisset. This is the book I would be taking home!

The Eysines public bookcase roadtrip was now over, but what a rollercoaster ride it had been (well, admittedly, we’re talking quite a gentle, low-speed, low-thrills literary rollercoaster here). But mission accomplished, or what? Some of the bookcase designs really are fantastic: the tram- and van-shaped bookcases absolutely have to be seen, and the four seasons reading hut in the Bois Gramond is a genuine delight. Meanwhile, others could certainly do with a bit of a makeover (Résidence les Cottages, we’re looking at you!). And, of course, an itinerary like this is also about the other things you get to see en route: taking in a Sunday-morning market, viewing the remarkable Ibai Hernandorena sculpture on Place Florale, watching some real, live baseball, and then discovering the little-known Parc du Limancet… these are all things that came about simply because I was out hunting for some handmade bookcases.

Therefore, to the good people of Eysines (and beyond), do head out and make the most of these unusual sights, and hats off to the municipal teams who designed and manufactured the public bookcases, they really are unique and quite brilliant. Bravo!

OK, everyone else is doing it, so why shouldn’t Invisible Bordeaux? As I’m a bit short on time these days (but the blog will hopefully be ba...

OK, everyone else is doing it, so why shouldn’t Invisible Bordeaux? As I’m a bit short on time these days (but the blog will hopefully be back sometime soon with new articles), I wondered whether the already-infamous AI chatbot ChatGPT could provide some instant top tips about the secret sights of Bordeaux. I booted up the bot and ran this exact request: “Provide ten very unusual secret sights to see in Bordeaux, France”. Below are the ten items ChatGPT suggested. Between each I provide my very real, live human take on the responses! What are your thoughts? 


> ChatGPT - Sight #1. "Le Passage Souterrain des Moulins: An underground tunnel system built in the 17th century to transport flour between mills, it's now a secret passageway beneath the streets of Bordeaux."

Invisible Bordeaux -
No idea what this is or where it might be. If it does exist it is truly a remarkable find and surely the city’s best kept secret. I do have a feeling that it doesn’t though, are you aware of it? 

> ChatGPT - "
Sight #2. La Tour Pey-Berland: A 15th-century bell tower attached to the Cathédrale Saint-André, offering panoramic views of the city."

Invisible Bordeaux -
OK, not exactly unusual, not very secret, and not exactly physically attached to the cathedral, but let’s go with it! 

> ChatGPT -
Sight #3. "La Grosse Cloche: A medieval bell tower that served as a gate to the city, with a small museum inside."

Invisible Bordeaux -
Hmmm, not sure about the museum inside, and this apparently obscure subject happens to be on the city’s coat of arms, but hey. 

> ChatGPT - Sight #4. "Le Jardin Botanique: A lush and peaceful botanical garden located in the heart of the city."

Invisible Bordeaux -
Approved, a great place to unwind and a fascinating place to visit. 

> ChatGPT -
Sight #5. "La Rue Saint-James: A narrow street lined with historic buildings, including the oldest house in Bordeaux."

Invisible Bordeaux -
Most sources concur to say that the oldest house in Bordeaux is on Impasse de Rue-Neuve, but admittedly that is fairly nearby. But, yes, rue Saint-James is a quaint street and well worth a visit. 

Rue Saint-James and le Jardin Botanique, yesterday.

> ChatGPT - Sight #6. "Le Pont de Pierre: A stunning stone bridge over the Garonne River, built in the early 19th century."

Invisible Bordeaux -
I think you’ll find most people in Bordeaux are left stunned by the Pont de Pierre just about every day of every week, it is arguably one of the city’s most prominent and recognizable landmarks. 

> ChatGPT - Sight #7. "Les Catacombes de Bordeaux: An underground network of tunnels and chambers filled with human bones, dating back to the 18th century."

Invisible Bordeaux -
Not sure here whether ChatGPT is getting Bordeaux muddled up with Paris, or whether this is referring to the incredible Roman-period cemetery below Saint-Seurin church. There are actual catacombs in nearby Saint-Emilion, could that be what this is all about? 

> ChatGPT - Sight #8. "Le Musée des Arts Décoratifs et du Design: A museum dedicated to decorative arts and design, housed in a beautiful 18th-century mansion."

Invisible Bordeaux -
Yes, Invisible Bordeaux approves once again, an unusual museum in a spectacular building, although if you want to check it out you will have to wait until the ongoing refurbishment work is finished. The museum is scheduled to reopen in 2025. 

> ChatGPT - Sight #9. "La Place de la Bourse: A grand square with a stunning water mirror reflecting the majestic Palais de la Bourse."

Invisible Bordeaux -
This unusual and secret sight can sometimes even be spotted on Instagram! 

> ChatGPT - Sight #10. "Le Jardin Public: A vast public park with a lake, a botanical garden, a zoo, and plenty of peaceful spots to relax and unwind."

Invisible Bordeaux -
Hmmm, the Jardin Public is indeed a great spot, and does have its own lake and botanical garden. Not sure about whether there’s a zoo per se, although the Natural History Museum and its collection of slightly deceased animals is there. Could ChatGPT be getting mixed up with the Parc Bordelais and the goats, geese and sheep of its “ménagerie”?  

Sooooo, all in all, a very mixed bag. There are a few IA-generated suggestions in there that are definitely valid, other suggested sights that are far too obvious to be classified as “unusual” or “secret”, and a couple that are just totally mystifying. 

Anyway, there is no doubt that we have turned a major corner lately with regard to AI-powered capabilities. However, perhaps, for the time being, if you’re on the lookout for obscure places to visit in Bordeaux, it’s best to refer to real-world guides and local heritage experts such as Marie Hallier, Fleur Borde, Caroline Calvet and Hela Mansour… or else simply liaise with the official Bordeaux tourism board and check out their excellent local slow tourism website Un Air de Bordeaux!

Ce dossier est également disponible en français !

During the recent Musical Écran festival organised by the Bordeaux Rock association (coincidentally also part of the most recent Invisible...

During the recent Musical Écran festival organised by the Bordeaux Rock association (coincidentally also part of the most recent Invisible Bordeaux blog item), one of the music documentaries I got to see was the incredible “Punk – Il était une fois Gilles Bertin”. The hour-long film, directed by Eugénie Grandval, tells the remarkable story of how a key player on the 1980s Bordeaux punk rock scene was part of a high-profile heist, disappeared off the map completely for 30 years, then sought redemption and to rebuild his identity from scratch. 

The story goes that Gilles Bertin was born in Paris in 1961 before spending his formative teenage years in Bordeaux. As soon as he was able to leave behind his home and his civil servant parents he did just that. He moved into a squat and, in 1981, became the vocalist and original bassist of the punk rock band Camera Silens. The group, who tended to hang out around Place Saint-Projet and the Saint-Pierre quarter, were soon big on the local scene, winning high-profile battles of the bands, and they rapidly developed a nationwide following. 

Early 1980s Camera Silens publicity shot, Gilles Bertin to the right.

The band’s relative success however was not providing enough income to fund Bertin’s heroin addiction, and so he fell into a life of petty crime and robberies, which adhered to the rules of thumb he and his cronies – mostly artists, fellow drug addicts, and anarchic activists – had set themselves, i.e. that this would generally involve stealing from The Man and that nobody would get hurt in the process.

By 1986, this darker, illicit existence outweighed Bertin’s musical career and he split from Camera Silens. Then, in 1988, he and his partners in crime were involved in their most notorious coup: a large-scale operation, reportedly two years in the making, involving home-made replica police uniforms and a fake police car, a finely-tuned scenario and mock interrogations. The heist enabled them to steal more than 11 million francs in banknotes (around 3 million euros in today’s money) from the Brink’s warehouse located in Toulouse. 

Over the following two years, the various members of the gang were caught one after the other. But Bertin had managed to escape to Spain’s Costa Brava, leaving behind not only his homeland but also his partner and newly-born son Loris. While on the run (an international arrest warrant had been issued), as well as spending all his money he met one Cecilia, with whom he moved to Lisbon where they opened a tiny but influential indie record store which operated for ten years. 

Camera Silens performing 'Réalité' for FR3 in 1985. Click here if video does not display properly.

Needless to say, officially Bertin no longer existed and the fugitive went by various names including Didier Ballet. The plot thickened though when in 1995 Bertin fell ill, and it emerged that his years of heroin addiction had finally caught up with him: he was HIV positive and had contracted AIDS. Despite being at death’s door, he was saved first by a hospital in a Communist-run town where no questions were asked about his identity, then by the advances of research and the administration of triple combination therapy. 

In the early 2000s, Bertin and his partner relocated to Barcelona, running the bar owned by Cecilia’s parents. The couple had a child together, Tiago, whose birth in 2011 led to Bertin deciding the time had come to open up about his past and move forward with a clean conscience. In November 2016, he chose to return to France to hand himself in to the authorities. 

As detailed in the documentary, by then Bertin was no longer really considered a public enemy, and if anything his reappearance was not especially welcome as it revived a cold case (and therefore multiple layers of paperwork and admin) that was no longer considered relevant by any of the parties involved. But Bertin was nevertheless put on trial and, thirty years on from the heist, was sentenced to a five-year suspended sentence, therefore escaping a stay in jail. 

By becoming a free man able to live life in the open once again, from then on Bertin was able to connect with his first son Loris (whose mother had died in the intervening years), took the time out to collaborate with Libération journalist Jean-Emmanuel Escarnot on drafting his memoirs (Trente ans de cavale : Ma vie de punk, published by Robert Laffont in February 2019 – Escarnot passed away before its release), and divided his time between Toulouse and Barcelona, where he continued working in the bar alongside Cecilia, and raising Tiago. 

Bertin during a meet and greet event to promote his book in 2019.

But, given that the authorities had declared him deceased in 1992, another of Bertin’s priorities was to obtain his French identity documents. This became a long and drawn-out battle which eventually lasted three years, with some of the Catch 22 situations being caught on camera in the documentary. He was finally given his new ID card on August 2 2019 but, just days later, his health ailing once again, Bertin fell into a coma. He died on November 7 2019 in Barcelona, aged 58. 

The Musical Écran screening of the documentary, the first time it had been shown as part of a film festival in France, was an emotionally charged event. Many friends and contemporaries of Gilles Bertin were in the audience, and Eugénie Grandval was herself present to explain how the documentary had initially set out to be the uplifting story of the reformed Bertin regaining his identity, but instead finished up as a sad tale tracking the administrative nightmare of his final years. 

Bertin’s partner Cecilia was also present (she had symbolically brought along his trusty briefcase), and highlighted how much that final administrative ordeal had taken out of Bertin. His first son Loris, who is still based in Bordeaux and is now a prominent player on the local techno music scene, also spoke about how his relationship with his father had gradually developed over his final years. Finally, Bertin’s solicitor was on hand to shed further light on the rebirth of the former punk rocker. 

As somebody who was very vaguely familiar with the Gilles Bertin story, having skim read press articles that came out when he reemerged into the public domain and once again when he passed away, it was an absolute privilege to be given this more extensive glimpse into the life and times of the reformed punk/bank robber. 

And, what can I say, the Eugénie Grandval documentary – the production of which was initially triggered by an article the director had read in Libération – is compelling and essential viewing. It has already been broadcast on terrestrial TV in France, has been screened at other festivals around the world, and does happen to be available on Youtube in its entirety. I’m not sure how legal the upload is but do yourself a favour, set aside 58 minutes of your time, and take in this incredible story. “Once upon a time, there was Gilles Bertin...” 

Click here if video does not display properly.

Recommended reading to dive deeper into the Gilles Bertin story: the Libération interview available by clicking here, French performing rights society SACEM's collection of musical archives, Sud Ouest's biographical overview featuring a number of great videos, and a look back on Camera Silens over on Rue89Bordeaux

Stills featured in this article taken from the France TV press package released to promote the documentary.

Ce dossier est également disponible en français !

Throughout November and December 2022, a host of commemorations and events will be held to mark the 80th anniversary of Operation Frankton, ...

Throughout November and December 2022, a host of commemorations and events will be held to mark the 80th anniversary of Operation Frankton, which ranks as one of the most incredible tales of Bordeaux’s dark wartime years (and which has already been featured on the blog): ten Royal Marines set out from the Atlantic, canoeing down the Gironde Estuary in order to plant mines on German cargo ships docked in central Bordeaux. Only two of the so-called Cockleshell Heroes, Herbert "Blondie" Hasler (1914-1987) and Bill Sparks (1922-2002), survived the mission. After escaping inland to Ruffec, near Angoulême, members of the French Résistance guided them across the Pyrenees and onto to Gibraltar, from where they departed for the UK.

Friend of the blog Jean-Claude Déranlot and his association, Operation Frankton History & Values, have conceived a rich series of events including a number of French-language conferences, as detailed below: 

- 1942 : L’année bascule

Speaker: Stéphane Barry, Docteur en histoire, Directeur des éditions Memoring
> This conference took place on Thursday November 3 

- Le cahier noir du journal “La Liberté du Sud Ouest”

Speaker: Gilles Robert
> Tuesday November 15, 18:30, Salle 46, Athénée municipal Joseph Wresinski, Place Saint-Christoly, Bordeaux 

- La Garonne et l’estuaire en 1942

Speaker: Éric Veyssy, Directeur et Médiateur culturel « Fleuve / Eau/Climat », Docteur en Biogéochimie de l’environnement
> Wednesday November 23, 18:30, Salle 46, Athénée municipal Joseph Wresinski, Place Saint-Christoly, Bordeaux 

- Le Renseignement de la France

Speaker: Jean-Claude Déranlot
> Thursday December 1, 18:30, Salle 46, Athénée municipal Joseph Wresinski, Place Saint-Christoly, Bordeaux 

- L’Opération Frankton

Speaker: Jean-Claude Déranlot
> Thursday December 8, 18:30, Amphithéâtre Athénée municipal Joseph Wresinski, Place Saint-Christoly, Bordeaux  

- Une mission, des hommes, une équipe, un chef

Speaker: Jean-Claude Déranlot
> Sunday December 11, Cap Sciences museum

- Mauriac et la guerre

Speakers: Anne-Marie Cocula, Présidente du Centre François Mauriac, and Astrid Llado, Responsable des projets d’éducation artistique et culturelle du Centre François Mauriac.
> Wednesday December 14, 18:30, 18:30, Salle 46, Athénée municipal Joseph Wresinski, Place Saint-Christoly, Bordeaux 

In addition, official commemorations will be held in Bordeaux (near Hangar 14 on the Garonne waterfront) and Blanquefort (Château Magnol) on December 9th, and a group of canoes will paddle into Bordeaux on Sunday December 11. An exhibition will also be held at la Maison écocitoyenne on Sunday December 11. 

Download the programme with full practical information by clicking here. 

Back in the late 1970s/1980s, the rock music scene in Bordeaux was renowned throughout France as being particularly active and dynamic. The ...

Back in the late 1970s/1980s, the rock music scene in Bordeaux was renowned throughout France as being particularly active and dynamic. The city was home to countless grassroots venues, was the subject of reports on nationwide TV programmes, and all this culminated in flagship local band Noir Désir gradually establishing themselves as one of France’s top acts.


A few years on from those halcyon days, in 2005, the still-evergreen musical association Bordeaux Rock produced a double-CD collection of tracks by various bands and solo singers who were part of that scene. The impressive package, illustrated by the talented Bordeaux artist Jofo, included photos and biographical information about each of the artists featured, making for an excellent compendium of and introduction to the period. 

In the impressive package, every artist gets their own page.

These days, the compilation is actually quite desirable (certainly if the authoritative online resource Discogs is to be believed). And, guess what, my good friend Olivier, bassist with my musical project Slowrush, actually owned two precious copies and generously gave one of them to me. Hurrah!

To get the full Bordeaux Rock experience, I decided to sit down and give the compilation a thorough, neutral listen. In fact I would have to approach it with an especially open mind: the liner notes provided a word of warning that the sound quality varied according to the nature and state of the source materials (mostly transferred from studio reels and vinyl, but also sometimes cassette tapes), and the main challenge faced by the person in charge of mastering the tracks was to create a coherent whole. This sounded ominous but I was curious to hear how it all fitted and flowed together.  

Looking through the alphabetically organized track listing, none of the artists were familiar, other than Noir Désir and, possibly, the Stilettos, whose name I may have come across here and there. Yes, this would truly be a musical journey through time into the unknown. Inserting CD1 into my player, was I about to make an exciting discovery, in amongst the 41 artists (plus a bonus three whose contributions predate the period at hand)? I hit play and started taking notes.

A compact disc at the ready - older readers may remember these.

Immediate highlights are the no-nonsense guitar and harmonica-led pub rock of Art-314 and the strummy, melodic Californian pop of the aptly-named Beach Lovers, which still sounds fresh and tight. ‘X Ray’ by Bolton (er, Bolton? Why?) mix and match guitars with some nascent electronica, and they sound like just the kind of band that might be called upon to open for Indochine and The Cure (which is precisely what happened).

Hmm, next up is a band that went by the mildly amusing/slightly rude name of Les Cons, except that the moniker was a reference to The Jam’s legendary All Mod Cons album, and you could definitely hear the influence in there, with the energetic instrumentation and sharp harmony vocals. And a little further in, the Flying Badgers sound even more inspired by the British scene (their bass player was actually from Sheffield) – the arrangement is among the most creative on the compilation, and the melody is catchy, definite sing-in-the-shower material.

Gamine’s ‘Julie Julie’ is described as a mid-period track by a band that would later go on to achieve widespread commercial success with their album ‘Voilà les Anges’. They are followed by Hangar 21 featuring, yikes, fine vocals by a female singer. We’re 13 tracks in and Catherine Politoff (for it is her) is only the second female name to be listed among band personnel. Hangar 21 sound like a cross between Nena, Blondie and The Pretenders.

Philippe Jolly is a surprise package and sounds unlike anything else on the compilation, with a big arrangement complete with brass section, keys, backing vocals… it’s the kind of studio performance that leaves you itching to have heard more in a live environment (Jolly reportedly died in 2010). The same could be said of Lucky Monkeys, with their very 1980s slap bass and big choruses, and Le Mix’s acoustic guitars, jangly harmonics, and imaginative backing vocals, whose ‘Aux USA’ features some pleasing changes of direction and dynamics… and some killer key changes!                 

CD1 closes with ‘Somebody To Love’ by Nightshift, described in the liner notes as being inspired by Elton John and Squeeze. This is something that can easily be perceived in the piano arrangement, the meandering melody and the soulful backing vocals. 


The central spread in the booklet. No, I don't know who any of these glum gentlemen are either and there's no caption. Photo taken on the right bank of the Garonne in central Bordeaux and credited to Alain de la Mata.

The inevitable Noir Désir kick off CD2 with the moody, atmospheric and slightly stressful ‘Danse sur le feu Maria’, from their debut album. This segues surprisingly well into the piano-driven, Beautiful South-like ‘I Got It Bad’ by The Owls, featuring Englishman Terry Wood on vocals. The booklet blurb suggests the group showed great promise and were on the verge of being signed by the Barclay record label, until the deal fell through and the band folded.

The following succession of bands, Poupée Cassée, Réverbère, Rotten Roll, and Les Scurs, kind of sound the way you would expect bands with names like that to sound. Once again, it takes a solo artist to break things up nicely, namely Patrick Scarzello and all 1’25’’ of his chirpy, old-school ‘La Clope’. 

Spina Bifada are described as being one of the first Bordeaux bands to use samplers, resulting in a more hypnotic, experimental sound than most of their contemporaries. Their track (conveniently entitled ‘Spina Bifada’, what were the odds?) is among those on the album that have arguably aged the best over the years.  

The dynamic, post-punky Stilettos are next up, and deserve a notable mention because they featured in their ranks the influential José Ruiz, a long-time mover and shaker on stage, in the media, and behind the scenes in and around Bordeaux. He founded and remains president of the Bordeaux Rock association, which continues to conceive and produce a whole host of events, including the annual Bordeaux Rock festival, Plages Pop series of concerts, and the Musical Ecran rock documentary festival. Way to go, José.  

Just when you feel you’re about to OD on the constant flow of male testosterone and distorted guitars, the unexpected Takenoko pop up, with one Vanessa on lead vocals, providing a pleasing, airy melodic overlay to the pitter-patter of synths and a rudimentary drum machine. There’s also a very 1980s sax solo thrown in for good measure. Checking the credits, I notice that the keyboardist and co-songwriter is an online acquaintance, Bruno Aujard. [Note: I got in touch with Bruno ahead of this article going live, and he was delighted to hear that his band's legacy was still be being unearthed and explored. You can hear their output over on Soundcloud.]

The raucous Wet Furs track ‘Au lit les bébés’ closes proceedings, ahead of the surprising aforementioned inclusion of bonus tracks by 1960s and 1970s artists Tony March & Ses Blousons Noirs, Absinthe, and Salty Dog. It’s an interesting way to utilize the available CD space but does also make for a bizarre way of signing off. Were the songs drafted in because, as the booklet explains, the bands Camera Silens, Les Exemples, and Kid Pharaon declined to be part of the compilation?   

The track listing in full.

Anyway, what is the overall verdict? Well, in spite of the mastering engineer’s fears, the collection does make for a coherent listen. Aside from a few exceptions, these are self-produced heads-down recordings of bands capturing their live arrangements on tape, making for energetic recordings but perhaps generally short of unusual musical ideas or instrumentation… and given that a vast proportion of the bands were the classic vocals/guitar/bass/drums formation, a few decades on many of them sound a touch… interchangeable. The exceptions to that rule (such as Philippe Jolly, Spina Bifada, and Takenoko) come across as especially refreshing.

It also has to be said that, a-hem, there wasn’t much in terms of lyrical content to get excited about. Perhaps it’s the lo-fi recording technology used by many here, but much of the time it’s actually impossible to make out what is being said, whether in French or English. However, once again, there were a few positive surprises in the mix (Noir Désir and Les Stagiaires spring to mind). To be fair though, when you're mainly intent on belting out 99 decibels of noise every week at Le Jimmy, coming up with subtle lyrics is possibly not priority #1!

The compilation admittedly sells itself as delivering rock… so rock is pretty much what you get, and fairly punky rock at that. Listening from start to finish, there is little or no hint of what was going on elsewhere around the same time. In the UK, this period was synonymous first with the rise of new wave and synth pop bands, ahead of the melodic indie sounds of groups like The Smiths and Lloyd Cole & The Commotions taking root. Stateside, dominant sounds included the post punk movement that gave us Talking Heads, followed by the alternative college rock scene led by R.E.M.. But there’s little sign of those movements here, other than in the tracks offered, say, by Flying Badgers, Le Mix, and Gamine.  

Finally, going through the track listing one last time, Les Stagiaires, Stalag, Les Standards, Steel Angel, Les Stilettos, Stillers, STO, and Strychnine would no doubt recommend that the best starting point for a Bordeaux band is to pick a name that begins with the letters S and T! There was definitely a bit of a trend there; it reportedly harks back to the influence of the (Rolling) Stones and The Stooges!

All in all, listening to the compilation made for an unusual musical trip through time in search of a scene which may be no more, but that has certainly developed and evolved into the musical scene that can still be sensed today in venues such as Rock School Barbey and the Krakatoa. And I, for one, will certainly be further exploring the careers of artists like Spina Bifada, Philippe Jolly, Takenoko, Flying Badgers, and The Owls, whether online or in the real world.

So vive Bordeaux Rock and, a few years on from that 2006 release, congratulations to everyone involved in producing this compilation (apparently a full year in the making), which forms a very worthy and valuable musical time capsule!



> Big thanks to Olivier Rols for kindly giving me a copy of this rare musical artefact! 

> Find out what the good people of Bordeaux Rock are up to these days by checking out their website:

> Ce dossier est également disponible en français !  

> And here's a bonus video to really get a feel of the period:

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

Among France’s box office hits of the 1980s, Les Fugitifs is one of the most fondly-remembered by cinema-goers, and still gets regular scre...

Among France’s box office hits of the 1980s, Les Fugitifs is one of the most fondly-remembered by cinema-goers, and still gets regular screenings on terrestrial TV. And, it just so happens that a number of the film’s key scenes were filmed in Bordeaux! Invisible Bordeaux teamed up with Jérôme Mabon, who runs the excellent La Pellicule Bordelaise blog, to track down some of the locations and to attempt to merge those scenes from the 1980s with the city as it looks in 2022!


Les Fugitifs
, written and directed by Francis Veber and released in 1986, was one of a trilogy of his films that starred legendary actors Gérard Depardieu and Pierre Richard as recurring characters Jean Lucas and François Pignon, the others being La Chèvre and Les Compères. The supporting cast in Les Fugitifs also included veteran thespian Jean Carmet, and child actor Anaïs Bret, who put in a wonderful performance as widower Pignon’s young daughter, Jeanne. 

Les Fugitifs
opens with Jean Lucas (Depardieu) being released from jail, a reformed man having done his time for a number of bank robberies. Trying to pick up the pieces, he heads to a bank to open a bank account, but is himself caught up in an attempted bank robbery conducted by the hapless François Pignon (Richard). After messy beginnings the unplanned encounter results in the two men (later joined by Jeanne) being on the run, and the film recounts how they more or less manage to stay one step ahead of the authorities. 

Some key opening sequences were filmed on location in Bordeaux, such as this one featuring Lucas/Depardieu and two police officers outside Mornier jewelers, who are still very much present on Rue Sainte-Catherine. Although they are sat in a car, by the 1980s the street had already been fully pedestrianized! 

The action then switches to Place Saint-Michel. Lucas/Depardieu can be seen crossing the busy square and crossing the road to a branch of the fictional bank BNT. The following scenes, set inside the “bank”, were shot in a studio setting. 

When news of the attempted bank robbery reaches the police, the officers promptly stick their flashing blue light on the roof of their glamourous unmarked Renault 20 and make a spectacular turn on Place Tourny, almost colliding with a bus in the process. 

Once the officers reach Saint Michel, along with a small army of riot police, this being the 1980s, it interrupts an aerobics class taking place on the first floor of a typical Bordeaux building.

Now on the run together, the two unlikely heroes crash a stolen car into a building site on Rue de Macau (where the Jardins de Tivoli residence can now be found), a quiet residential street which is a surprising place to have served as a backdrop for scenes from a box office hit! They then turn their attentions to another car which pulls up opposite (a rather smart Porsche 944, thanks Patrick!), dispose of the driver (who has turned up for a romantic date), and make a swift getaway. 

The plot thickens when Pignon/Richard reveals to his reluctant partner in crime that he has a daughter. She is soon collected, then father and child negotiate some of the narrow streets of Bordeaux, before abandoning their means of transport ahead of a police barrage… and the pair head into Galerie Bordelaise to do a bit of window-shopping. 


After various twists and turns, Lucas/Depardieu ends up watching over young Jeanne and they spend a night sleeping rough in a warehouse on Rue Terre des Bordes, which runs along the southern side of Saint-Jean railway station. 


Using the latest in a long series of stolen vehicles (this time it’s a Caraïbos delivery van), the fugitives end up first outside and then inside the Jardin Public., and once again narrowly escape being arrested by the police.

But that is where we will leave Gérard Depardieu, Pierre Richard, and Anaïs Bret, given that the film’s other exterior scenes were shot in Meaux, near Paris, and (possibly) in the French Alps… so if you wish to find out what happened next, and want to know whether the fugitives somehow managed to avoid getting caught, you will have to hunt out the film for yourself… or wait until it is next shown on TV!


You could also watch the US remake of the film, Three Fugitives, which starred Nick Nolte, Martin Short, James Earl Jones, and Sarah Doroff (and was also directed by Francis Veber)… but which does not have the added bonus of featuring scenes filmed in Bordeaux!

View the original trailer of Les Fugitifs:

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

Click here to see the trailer of US remake Three Fugitives


Read Jérôme Mabon's La Pellicule Bordelaise French-language take on this same photo report over on La Pellicule Bordelaise!


Ce dossier est également disponible en français.