As 2017 draws to a close, the time has come to look back over the year on the blog. Usually this involves simply highlighting the most-r...

The 2017 Invisible Bordeaux Awards: and the winners are…

As 2017 draws to a close, the time has come to look back over the year on the blog. Usually this involves simply highlighting the most-read items or personal favourites, but this time around Invisible Bordeaux has decided to organize its own awards ceremony, so congratulations to all the winning subjects who will be delighted to be enjoying some more exposure!

The “Best-Kept Secret” Award: Jardin des Remparts
It’s small and not exactly spectacular, but the Jardin des Remparts is a charming haven of tranquillity in one of Bordeaux’s busiest quarters, located just a few metres away from Capucins Market. And, with a curious shrine, a ghostly sentry post and remains of the 14th-century city walls, there is also a definite sense of history about the place.

The “Most Opaque” Award: the bricked-up windows of Bordeaux
Is there anything more opaque than a window that has been bricked up? And it just so happens that there are hundreds, if not thousands of these bricked-up windows in Bordeaux! Why should that be and what are the various distinguishing features of these architectural oddities? Invisible Bordeaux investigated!

The “Most Travelled” Award: cycling along the Canal de Garonne
Instead of a road-trip, this tale was one of a towpath trip along the banks of the Canal de Garonne from Castets-en-Dorthe to Agen. Starring locks, barges, trees, bridges, aqueducts, various types of vegetables and fruit and, bizarrely, models of French landmarks built out of matchsticks, the scenic bike ride also included a memorable non-encounter with a painting by the Dutch master Rembrandt. Get pedalling! 

The “Bizarre Public Artwork” Award: la Maison aux Personnages
One of Bordeaux’s most unusual permanent art installations is a custom-built house located on a traffic island, comprising a number of rooms, each of which has been designed and filled with scenery and accessories to look like it is inhabited by an imaginary character. The piece is the work of Russian artists Ilya and Emilia Kabakov. It’s all very strange, and is just a little bit controversial too...

The “Inconvenient Truth” Award: the 1942 Juif et la France exhibition
Bordeaux’s wartime history remains a sore subject and, in hindsight, one the most painful chapters from that period was this, the hosting of an anti-Semitic propaganda exhibition. Wartime events of the like now seem to be the unbelievable end-product of some unrecognisable parallel universe. And yet it is all so recent and the setting so familiar that the account makes for chilling reading.

The “Live Event” Award: Domaine Catros Heritage Days tours
Of course, most blog-related public appearances in 2017 came in the shape of more performances of the Shuman Show, the words-and-music live show based on the life and career of Mort Shuman, in front of audiences in Bordeaux, Mérignac, Talence, Saint-Aubin-de-Médoc and even Paris! But this year's award goes to an event that was put on with the support of my daytime employer Thales: I was given the keys to the Domaine Catros arboretum on the premises of our former facility in Le Haillan and held guided tours as part of this year’s European Heritage Days weekend. A splendid time was had by all! 

Thank you for following the Invisible Bordeaux story so far, and see you again in 2018!

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A few weeks ago, I picked up a pamphlet that was produced around 1960 and which provided a full overview of the ambitious project to bui...

Back when the Pont d’Aquitaine was still the ‘Nouveau Pont de Bordeaux’

A few weeks ago, I picked up a pamphlet that was produced around 1960 and which provided a full overview of the ambitious project to build a suspension bridge over the Garonne between the Bacalan quarter of Bordeaux and Lormont. The bridge, referred to at the time as the “Nouveau Pont de Bordeaux”, went on to be inaugurated in 1967 and is now a familiar local landmark: the Pont d’Aquitaine. 

Of course, the bridge was already the subject of a full Invisible Bordeaux report a few years ago, along with a video clip taking in the view from the cycle paths! But what more would I learn from this unusual fold-out pamphlet, credited to Ponts et Chaussées de la Gironde and comprising an impressive amount of originally handwritten data and information, along with a series of pre-computer age technical illustrations and cartography? And how did the technical drawings and maps compare with the finished product, 50 years on from completion? 

For a start, the financial structure of the project is detailed. The bridge itself and the left-bank viaduct were set to cost 97 million “nouveaux francs” (France had just switched systems) which, when accounting for inflation (using calculation methods developed by national statistics institute Insee), represents around 154 million euros in today’s money. The French State was delivering on two-thirds of the budget, while the Gironde département and the city of Bordeaux split the remainder in two. Throw in the right-bank connecting road and the bridge amounted to a 100-million-franc project.

The document also lists the quantities of the main raw materials that would be needed to build the bridge. To highlight but a few, these included 132,000 cubic metres of ordinary and reinforced concrete, 8,500 tons of steel for the reinforced concrete, 1,900 tons of cables for the support and suspension system and 4,350 tons of rolled steel for the bridge's main framework. In its initial configuration, the surface area of the bridge and viaduct amounted to 25,000 square metres.

This is one of the things which may have changed over time: as specified in the pamphlet, the bridge originally comprised 2x2 lanes for road traffic (equating to a width of 14 metres), with 40-centimetre-wide reservations separating them from 1.50-metre-wide cycle paths on either side, in turn coupled with additional 1.10-metre-wide footpaths. When the suspension structure was overhauled between 2000 and 2005, the deck was extended to 2x3 lanes; as a result automobile traffic took up all the available space between the pylons. The cycle path was now aligned with the pylons; when reaching the pylons, the path was diverted, snaking around the pillars on newly-added platforms. The footpaths had already disappeared in 1980 (freeing up space for a "fifth" central lane of traffic) and today the bridge very much remains a non-pedestrian zone.

Cross-section of the original deck, showing the cycle paths and footpaths on either side.

This is how it translated into reality: note the pedestrians over to the right! Picture taken soon after the bridge opened by blog reader Jean-Claude Déranlot. Thanks Jean-Claude!
The cycle path (which lies just behind the red barriers) now loops around the exterior of the pylons.

Leafing through the technical drawings, it does look as if the design of the top of the pylons must have been revised ahead of construction, with slightly slimmer horizontal sections connecting the vertical pillars on the finished product.

Reassuringly, the engineers’ calculations regarding the viaduct’s 4.66% gradient and the curvature of the suspension system translated seamlessly into reality.

The deck now spills over the edge of the structure (where the cycle path passes) when it must have been perfectly aligned in the bridge's original configuration.
Some of the diagrams, such as this one of the left-bank foundation block, almost offer an x-ray view of the real thing, although it looks like the system towards the top may have been modified during the renovation period a few years back, or possibly even during urgent maintenance and repair work carried out in the 1980s.

The pamphlet also provides a cross-section view of the bridge's original suspension cables, each of which was made up of 37 individual cables that were 78.5 millimetres in diameter. Elsewhere in the document, it is explained that those individual cables comprised 208 4.7-millimetre steel wires. In all, each 48cm x 55cm suspension cable weighed in at 1.15 ton per metre. During the 21st-century renovation, all that changed was the diameter of the individual cables (72.6mm) and associated steel wires (127 4.1 mm wires), along with the overall size of the suspension cables (45cm x 51cm).

A close-up view of one of the sealed suspension cables, at one of the points where it is clamped to the bridge, and the point where it enters the foundation block pictured further up the page.
Finally, while the bridge itself is still, at the time of writing in 2017, a highly recognisable result of those early-1960s designs, one thing which has changed considerably is the surrounding road infrastructure. Take, for instance, the lowly roundabout which would have provided an initial means of connecting traffic to and from Bordeaux and the bridge with the “futurs boulevards extérieurs” (now lovingly referred to as the Bordeaux Rocade) which has, over time, become a complex spaghetti junction notably fed by traffic from the busy Bordeaux Lac business, exhibition, hotel and retail park.

The way it was planned in the 1960s and the way it is now (via Googlemaps): the humble roundabout has become a spaghetti junction.
All of which brings us back to the present-day Pont d’Aquitaine, the Bordeaux suspension bridge which isn’t doing so badly for a 50-year-old! Despite the arrival of leaner, more fashionable counterparts spanning the Garonne, and even though it will never quite have the picture-postcard cachet of the Pont de Pierre, the Pont d’Aquitaine still stands tall and proud, enjoying its prominent status as the main gateway between the city and the Gironde Estuary which lies beyond (a little further downstream), and providing the final physical means of crossing the river ahead of the Atlantic ocean.

> Locate it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Pont d'Aquitaine, Bordeaux/Lormont
> Ce dossier est également disponible en français !
> Big thanks to Frédéric Llorens for the additional information about when the pedestrian footpaths were removed. 
> And check out the exclusive Invisible Bordeaux guide to the view from the bridge!

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I was recently approached for an interview by the Bordeaux tourist office ahead of the launch of their new webzine, Un Air de Bordeau...

Introducing 'Un Air de Bordeaux', taking locals out of their comfort zone!

I was recently approached for an interview by the Bordeaux tourist office ahead of the launch of their new webzine, Un Air de Bordeaux. The webzine has now gone live, and it is a fine resource that is set to be a valuable addition to the local online ecosystem! 

Un Air de Bordeaux is primarily aimed at locals, to encourage them to get out and about, to see, visit and explore the surrounding metropole, but it is also bound to be of interest to international readers! It covers everything from parks to museums, tries out various oddball offerings, pinpoints child-friendly activities and lists upcoming events (exhibitions, sport, concerts, festivals, etc.).

The interview I gave features among a collection of “Super week-end” suggestions in the lifestyle section of the webzine. In it I reveal five unusual places to head to in order to enjoy an unusual take on the city, such as the scenic Parc Floral and the wide open spaces of Eysines, the “vegetable garden of Bordeaux”. One of my top tips is the national social security museum in Lormont, but do note that this most unusual of museums is only open on weekdays!

So, head on over to Un Air de Bordeaux and see where the webzine takes you. There is, after all, so much more to Bordeaux than its waterfront and Rue Sainte-Catherine!

Video introduction here:

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A few weeks ago, Invisible Bordeaux teamed up with la Mémoire de Bordeaux Métropole to head inside one of the city’s most famous la...

Three things you (possibly) didn’t know about Bordeaux’s Pont de Pierre

A few weeks ago, Invisible Bordeaux teamed up with la Mémoire de Bordeaux Métropole to head inside one of the city’s most famous landmarks, the Pont de Pierre, and met Laurent Rascouailles, the person who is in charge of visits to civil engineering works for Bordeaux Métropole.

The resulting video interview was subsequently published by Mémoire de Bordeaux Métropole on social media, and here is what Laurent taught us about the inner secrets of the emblematic bridge.

1. The Pont de Pierre is hollow!
Inside view of the Pont de Pierre!
Laurent Rascouailles: "Two tunnels run from one bank to the other inside the bridge, carrying water lines through the first, and telecommunications and electrical cables through the other. The tunnels are low-ceilinged, 1.10 metre high on average, and the only people who use the tunnels these days are the technicians who monitor the bridge. Generally they cross the bridge once a year, to check the inside of the structure. They go inside each pillar, and it takes them half a day to make it all the way across the bridge.

"In August 1944, the Spanish guerilla Pablo Sanchez saved the bridge simply by walking through these tunnels. The Germans had positioned explosives inside each pillar in order to blow up the bridge. Pablo Sanchez defused all the explosives; sadly he was shot when exiting the bridge on the left bank. There is a plaque in his honour on the waterfront and his name was recently given to a road in the new dockside developments."

2. Instruments permanently monitor the bridge
Laurent Rascouailles: "There are instruments inside each pillar and in its abutments, to monitor all the bridge's movements. There is a displacement sensor in each abutment and each pillar, to keep track of how much the pillars are sinking into the ground. Then there is an inclinometer to know which way the pillars are leaning in relation to the river, whether it's upstream or downstream. And a mechanical level enables us to monitor the transversal and longitudinal rotations of its supports."

3. Steps that now lead nowhere... used to provide underground access to toll collection offices!
Stairway to nowhere.
Laurent Rascouailles: "When construction work began, the State funded the project. But work came to a halt when Napoleon abdicated in 1814 and it was the shipowner Pierre Balguerie-Stuttenberg who enabled work to start again, by seeking donations. He founded the Compagnie du Pont de Bordeaux, made up of Bordeaux traders and other shipowners. Thanks to the company, building work began again but, in return, they demanded a toll be implemented for a 99-year period. Therefore, when the bridge opened on May 1st 1822, everyone had to pay in order to cross.

"The toll system stopped in August 1861 when the State acquired the bridge with the support of the city of Bordeaux and the département. One of the conditions was to make the bridge free to cross, so that Bordeaux could expand on the right bank, towards La Bastide. The toll booths were then used to collect octroi duty tax from 1861 until its abolition in 1927, and the buildings were finally demolished in 1954 when the bridge was widened, from a width of around 15 metres to 19 metres. At ground level, the pavements you walk on these days were added when that extension took place. The duty collection buildings had become a hindrance for movement and, therefore, hindered access to the bridge."

And here is the video interview featuring some incredible archive footage (and English subtitles):

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

> Video produced by Sandie Fabre for la Mémoire de Bordeaux Métropole in conjunction with Invisible Bordeaux, Bernard Avril and IJBA, originally published on Vimeo:

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On almost every street in Bordeaux there are bricked-up windows that add a sense of mystery to the associated buildings. What can the sto...

The phantom windows of Bordeaux

On almost every street in Bordeaux there are bricked-up windows that add a sense of mystery to the associated buildings. What can the story be? 

As reported in a recent Invisible Bordeaux item, in most cases the windows were bricked up in the 19th century as a means of paying less so-called "window tax" (impôt sur les fenêtres), an unpopular
Rue Croix-de-Seguey.
means of taxation that had first been used at the time of the Roman Empire and that was applied in France from 1798 to 1926. The system served as a simpler way of calculating how much tax was owed than entering and measuring the surface area of each property.

While this is the primary reason for so many windows having disappeared into thin air, there can be others: in some cases, owners may have added window-shaped designs as a "trompe l’œil" feature to add coherency and/or symmetry to an exterior, or to visually break up an otherwise monotonous empty space. Finally, some may have simply chosen to block off their windows for structural reasons or because they were having to deal with too much sunlight!

In many cases, phantom windows of the like are to be found on buildings located on street corners; having two walls to play with obviously provided owners with more leeway, such as pictured below on rue Commandant-Arnould (also featured in the lead photo) and rue Barennes. In both cases, the brickwork and smooth lines suggest these may be trompe l'œil features.

These next tall buildings, on rues du Serpolet, Chai-des-Farines and Ducau are all heavy on phantom windows. The rue Ducau residence on the right almost comes across as a game of Tetris in progress, with the blocked-up windows seemingly gradually replacing the real ones from the bottom up!

This charming building, on the corner of rue du Hâ and rue des Étuves even includes some faded handpainted adverts (or ghostsigns, a recurring Invisible Bordeaux subject!). On the lower floor, the presence of a corner window suggests that there may also have been similar windows on the upper levels in a previous life. 

The scenario below is a classic one, particularly when the buildings involved are not on street corners: full rows of windows are simply not there. These photos were taken on cours Pasteur and rue des Bahutiers.

The phenomenon is by no means restricted to tall buildings in the city centre. Bourgeois townhouses in residential neighbourhoods are also short of a few windows, as can be seen here on rue Rochambeau, rue des Deux-Ormeaux and cours Marc-Nouaux. In each case, anything between four and seven windows (and even a large arched doorway) have either disappeared from view, or else were never there to begin with!

Smaller homes have also played the phantom window game, such as here on rue Henri-Matisse (where no less than three of the six first-floor windows have been cancelled out) and rue de l'Arsenal.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the Bordeaux class system spectrum, Château Pape-Clément, out in Pessac, also boasts its own mystery windows!

In some cases, bricked-up windows, whatever their reason for being, have been cultivated as bona fide trompe l’œils. That is the case for instance on rue Mandron, where the windows in the row over to the left of the picture below are full-on optical illusions, the non-windows convincingly painted to look like genuine ones.

Elsewhere, such as here on rue Ravez, efforts were made in the past to dissimulate and embellish the ghost windows by adding outdoor venetian blinds. The blinds are now well past their best though...

But perhaps my favourite use of a ghost window, pictured below, is to be found on rue d'Arcachon. A board which has been affixed to the window features, appropriately enough, an interpretation of Salvador Dalí's "Figura en una finestra" (Figure at the Window). The picture is signed/credited to "B. Bodin d'après Dalí".

So start hunting out your own phantom windows and decide for yourself why and how they came to be. Once you begin looking for them, you'll see that they crop up everywhere, in all quarters and on all sides!

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A few days ago I attended a concert by the Australian folk and indie pop duo Angus & Julia Stone at l'Espace Médoquine in Talen...

Inside l'Espace Médoquine for the last time

A few days ago I attended a concert by the Australian folk and indie pop duo Angus & Julia Stone at l'Espace Médoquine in Talence (usually simply known as "la Médoquine"). This was, in all likelihood, my last visit to the venue which will close for good in 2018, with residential buildings and scenic greenery set to take its place.

The multi-purpose venue, best known as a concert hall but also used by local associations and businesses for meetings, conferences and miscellaneous events, was built in the late 1980s to the designs of the Gujan-Mestras-based architect Bernard Vayssière. French singer Yves Duteil was the first headline artist to perform there on March 4th 1989.

The venue could be configured according to the event at hand, catering for attendances of anything between 250 and 1,000 if seated, and up to 3,000 standing. The standing configuration is the one with which I am most familiar as a concert-goer; during my first stay in Bordeaux in the 1990s I saw many personal favourites there including Joe Jackson, Lloyd Cole, Stephen Duffy and Tears For Fears. In more recent years, my occasional Médoquine concert outings have included the electronic rock outfit Archive and alternative pop band Metronomy.
The days before barcodes: old Médoquine concert tickets!
Metronomy, November 2014.
Having said all that, one of my most memorable Médoquine (non-) events was a date by Oasis back in 1996, when they were at the height of their Britpop fame. Reportedly underwhelmed by the safety barriers that had been installed in front of the stage, the band decided to cancel their performance at the last minute, to the great disbelief, disappointment and anger of the crowd waiting outside! (The group did return to the venue in 2009 and apparently played an uninspired Oasis-by-numbers set.)

But the local music history books will probably associate the venue with more notable appearances by the likes of the Michael Hutchence-led INXS in June 1993. They had just made the uncomfortable move of downsizing from stadium gigs to more intimate mid-sized venues, and la Médoquine fitted the bill nicely. And, in June 1997, one David Bowie brought his Earthling tour to Talence; this was the only time Bowie was to perform in the area.

Beyond my personal concert-going memories of the venue, my day-job duties in the Communications team at Thales have enabled me to view la Médoquine in a whole new light, spending full days there working on the organisation of new year all-staff meetings. This has meant I have enjoyed the enviable privilege of sitting behind a big mixing desk feeling like I’m important or, with the whole venue to myself pre-event, wandering about on stage secretly pretending I’m Joe Jackson or David Bowie. 

On stage: take the seats away and you more or less have a Bowie-eye view of la Médoquine.
Mixing desk vantage point.
However, possibly the most enduring memory of those days spent at la Médoquine, invariably at the height of winter, is how cold the place was. Although the heating system would be switched on in the morning, it took until mid-afternoon for the temperature to reach anything approaching bearable. As somebody who is more used to working in a comfortable office environment, my days at la Médoquine generally meant wrapping up like I was off to a ski station. Thales managers, ahead of their keynote talks to employees, would be checking out their notes wearing warm coats and scarves. In contrast, when I've attended concerts, the place has felt a little like being stuck inside an oven, regardless of the time of year. Go figure...

Behind the scenes on stage at la Médoquine.
Which brings us on to why the municipally-owned la Médoquine is to be demolished: the rapidly-ageing dysfunctional venue was in dire need of being overhauled and the bill for Talence would have come to between 2 and 4 million euros. Although the venue is run by the semi-public company Talence Gestion Équipement, the municipality continued to provide a substantial annual subsidy (322,000 euros) to cover losses and funded ongoing maintenance and repair work in full. Hence the decision to sell off the land to private property developers, with the resulting revenues being injected into a new project to build a combined music and dance school with a performance hall nearer to the centre of Talence.

La Médoquine's futuristic design will soon be a thing of the past...
Also, while concerts only accounted for a little under a third of the venue’s average annual revenues (29%, while corporate events generated 39% and municipal/associative events 32%), la Médoquine certainly retained its image as a live venue and began to struggle in the distinctly crowded Bordeaux concert hall landscape. La Médoquine has thus been left trailing behind more modern, more attractive and better-equipped counterparts such as Le Rocher de Palmer (comprising separate 250-, 650- and 1,200-capacity halls), which coordinates its highly desirable concert programme in partnership with Bordeaux’s Rock School Barbey and Mérignac’s Krakatoa.

Elsewhere on the outskirts of Bordeaux, Théatre du Casino Barrière and suburban venues like Théâtre des Quatre Saisons in Gradignan have also drawn potential artists and clients away from la Médoquine. Finally, over in Floirac, the cutting-edge Bordeaux Metropole Arena will shortly be opening for business, with a capacity ranging from 2,500 to 11,300, simultaneously overshadowing la Médoquine and replacing the acoustically-challenged Patinoire Mériadeck in central Bordeaux. Meanwhile, Cenon is also considering building an additional 2,500-capacity venue alongside the Rocher de Palmer!

Angus & Julia Stone and a sea of mobile phones, October 2017. The bird statue thing was part Muppets and part Spinal Tap.
According to media reports such as an interesting France Bleu feature broadcast in 2015, locals have mixed feelings about the closure. Many were only too receptive to the activity the venue generated in the neighbourhood and each event was synonymous with lively, lucrative nights for nearby bars and fast-food outlets. But others won’t miss the venue and its crowds; they had previously been vocal in their opposition to la Médoquine, resulting in measures including a strict 10:30pm curfew for concerts. And they probably don’t look back fondly on highly-publicised incidents such as the acts of night-time vandalism carried out in March 2017 ahead of Emmanuel Macron’s campaign rally there in the run-up to his election as French president! 

Anyhow, with a few months to spare ahead of what appears to be the final concert date, veteran singer Hugues Aufray’s March 29th 2018 performance, let us bid a fond farewell to La Médoquine. Thank you for the memories and good night!

The scene at the end of Angus & Julia Stone's set.
No re-admittance...
> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: la Médoquine, 224-226 Cours Gallieni, Talence.
> At the time of writing, la Médoquine does still have an official website: 
> Some of the figures in this piece were culled from an excellent, informative, highly-recommended article published by in March 2017 by Rue 89 Bordeaux :
> Ce dossier est également disponible en français !

[BONUS] In case you're wondering, here are the songs performed by David Bowie at la Médoquine in 1997 (via
David Bowie Setlist Espace Médoquine, Talence, France 1997, Earthling

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