In this internet age there is an active online community of people who track down ghost signs, those faded hand-painted advertisements an...

Ghost signs: phantom letters continuing to haunt the walls (chapter 1!)

In this internet age there is an active online community of people who track down ghost signs, those faded hand-painted advertisements and signage from bygone years which have somehow survived this far into the 21st century.

In France, particularly rural France, ghost signs (such as the one above to be found in Saint-Aubin-de-Médoc) remain a fairly common sight. With a little help from real-world friends and Twittersphere acquaintances, here is a first selection of a few such adverts and signs to be spotted in and around Bordeaux. A dedicated GoogleMap (which has also been added to the right-hand menu) will help you locate them all. There will be many more to come in other posts further down the line!

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A fourth self-guided walking tour of Bordeaux is now available to download and run on different iDevices. The latest addition to this ran...

New guided walking tour now available: Elegant Bordeaux

A fourth self-guided walking tour of Bordeaux is now available to download and run on different iDevices. The latest addition to this range of lovingly handcrafted tours will take you on a meandering walk through the most elegant parts of the city.

Setting out from Esplanade des Quinconces, the two-hour Elegant Bordeaux Tour trek takes in the fine architecture, picturesque streets, peaceful market squares and magnificent churches of the Chartrons and Saint-Seurin districts.

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A few months ago, as part of a twin Invisible Bordeaux / Invisible Paris feature, we reviewed the formative years spent in France by ...

Mitt Romney’s Latter-Day Saints basecamp in Talence


A few months ago, as part of a twin Invisible Bordeaux/Invisible Paris feature, we reviewed the formative years spent in France by Mitt Romney, the unsuccessful Republican candidate in the 2012 US presidential elections. During the six months he spent as a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints missionary in Bordeaux in 1968, the apartment he called home was on Place du Maucaillou in the Capucins district. Meanwhile, the centre of gravity of his missionary activities was this Mormon chapel on Rue Pierre-Romain in Talence.

This was the first Mormon church to be built in France (there are now 110 serving 36,500 members). The land, in a quiet residential part of the suburb, had been purchased by the Church in 1963 and the architectural project was initially overseen by the movement’s Thor Leifson. At the time the ward numbered around 35 members and, ahead of the chapel being built, they congregated in an abandoned villa situated within the grounds.

The foundation stone of the chapel was laid on June 8th of that year, some time before the building permit was delivered; the project was rubberstamped by authorities the following October. Construction work could begin in earnest and was wholly handled by missionaries – including a 16-year-old who had travelled down especially from the Breton city of Rennes – and volunteers. At times, there were 50 people working on the site. Church members who couldn’t help with construction work per se contributed by washing and ironing the missionaries’ clothes and by bringing them home-cooked meals. Members also helped with funds by symbolically purchasing bricks of the future chapel, each one costing 1 franc.


Meanwhile, demolition work on the villa was reportedly carried out by a company called Navarro, whose manager had been unwilling to take on the project until he discovered it had been commissioned by the Mormons. It turns out Navarro was a literal Bible believer who had recently returned from an expedition searching for the remains of Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat in Eastern Turkey. He had come back with pieces of petrified wood that carbon dating showed were 4,400 years old… whether they were bits of the Ark is another story! 

Throughout the transitional phase, the congregation would meet in prefabricated premises. But by the summer of 1964, the exterior was complete, and attentions turned to the interior which was more or less finished by mid-1965, when the chapel was used to hold sessions of a nationwide youth conference. A few finishing touches later, the chapel was officially inaugurated on December 10th 1965 by Mormon “apostle” Howard W. Hunter (who later went on to serve as president of the movement over a brief nine-month period between 1994 and his death in 1995). The chapel’s consecration followed in March 1967. 


Howard W. Hunter obviously paid a return visit in 1968. In a feature published by The Boston Globe in 2008, photos credited to Marie-Blanche and Jean Causse show Romney alongside Hunter both outside and inside the chapel in Talence. In the top photo Romney is standing fourth from the left, Hunter ninth. Bottom right is the same backdrop 44 years later!
Although precise figures are hard to come by, the Talence ward went from strength to strength over the following ten years, with activities including schooling for 35 children, scout troops, public-speaking and drama clubs, dance lessons, not to mention couscous soirées and fancy-dress parties with a recurrent Wild West theme.

The chapel apparently continues to enjoy a healthy working relationship with the municipality and no doubt continues to serve as a meeting point for new generations of missionaries. Will any of the current crop go on to become prominent political players in the future? 

> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Mormon chapel, 10 Rue Pierre-Romain, Talence 
> The account of Romney's time in Bordeaux and Paris  
> Detailed history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in France
> Ce dossier est également disponible en français !

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This statue of Charles-Michel Lespée, or Abbé de l’Épée, and his supporting cast of young girls are looking out over the grand main entr...

Castéja: the former school for the deaf with an uncertain future


This statue of Charles-Michel Lespée, or Abbé de l’Épée, and his supporting cast of young girls are looking out over the grand main entrance of a building known as “Castéja” and named, like a neighbouring road, after Pierre Castéja, mayor of Bordeaux between 1860 and 1863.

At the time of writing, Castéja is a massive empty shell and set to become a residential complex led by Gironde Habitat, comprising 180 apartments, an underground car park and a pre-schoo maternelle. The building’s glory years as "L'Institution nationale des sourdes-muettes", an educational institute for deaf and dumb girls from all over France, are therefore long gone.

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Invisible Bordeaux first crossed the path of architect Hector Loubatié when researching the Ciné-Théâtre Girondin near Barrière de Pess...

Hector Loubatié’s architectural endeavours in Bordeaux and Pessac


Invisible Bordeaux first crossed the path of architect Hector Loubatié when researching the Ciné-Théâtre Girondin near Barrière de Pessac. It soon emerged that there were many more interesting examples of the Bordeaux-born architect's eclectic vocabulary to be uncovered in and around the city and its suburbs.  

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