OK, granted, this is not exactly typical Invisible Bordeaux material, given that since opening in 2016 the city’s wine museum has rap...

Is the Cité du Vin really any good?

OK, granted, this is not exactly typical Invisible Bordeaux material, given that since opening in 2016 the city’s wine museum has rapidly established itself as one of Bordeaux’s essential sights and stops on the tourist circuit. But, despite a number of whistle-stop tours when holding corporate events there, I had never taken the time out to visit the place properly. I did finally achieve a full-on visit a few days ago and I thought the blog readership might appreciate an independent user review and get an idea of whether the Cité du Vin is, indeed, any good. 

But, first, a disclaimer: this is not going to be a piece about the museum’s unorthodox open-to-interpretation curve-heavy architectural design (the work of Anouk Legendre and Nicolas Desmazières of the international architecture agency XTU). I will also most definitely not be writing about the vital statistics of the 55-metre-tall building, with its 918 coloured glass and 2,300 aluminium panels. Nor will I be talking about the Cité’s 250-capacity auditorium, or amenities such as its quiet reading room or swish seventh-floor restaurant. This, dear reader, will be solely focused on my tour of the permanent exhibition itself (as dreamt up by the London-based museum and exhibition designers Casson Mann), which is what most visitors come to see.

And to start off, those visitors are kitted out with a smartphone-style “companion” and a headset, the design of which conveniently leaves a little bit of personal space between the speakers and one’s ears, to retain at least a certain sense of what's going on in the outside world. The companion/headset combination is the essential accessory to be able to enjoy the full Cité du Vin experience, as audio is fed into the earphones throughout, and the electronic device is in essence a personal guide, also offering additional resources and activities along the way.

The opening "World wine tour" video exhibit.
Then visitors are released into the exhibition proper. While there is no set itinerary, there are six clear sections to explore at will: “Wine regions of the world”, “From the vine to the glass”, “Wine and civilization”, “Wine and you”, “Wine and the imagination”, and, logically enough, a whole exhibit focused on Bordeaux. The natural starting point is the area focused on “Wine regions of the world”, the first highlight of which is a stunning multi-screen film that compiles drone footage showing vineyards and wine-growing properties all round the world. That segues quite nicely into one of that first area’s other highlights, a set of multimedia “Terroir tables”, in which winemakers from a wide range of countries share video testimonials of their personal stories and the specifics of their respective territories. It’s all very interesting and even strangely moving.

Winemaker testimonials beamed in from all over the world to the "Terroir table".
The “From the vine to the glass” section delves into the nitty-gritty of wine production, from the diverse characteristics and qualities of different grape varieties, to the techniques and equipment involved in transforming the grapes, and developing and nurturing the wine, to the different types of end product that can be achieved. The stories are told through a number of touchscreen devices, and even some unusual camera obscura-style dish-shaped screens where visitors swish their hands from side to side to interact with the information on offer.

As might be expected, the “Wine and civilization” area extends beyond the product itself to the surrounding economy and culture, as illustrated by a so-called “Trend wall” that covers aspects such as marketing and packaging, and by the large Disneyland ride-like “All aboard” exhibit where visitors are sat in the dark, surrounded by a massive curved screen and under the illusion that they have travelled several centuries back in time and have boarded merchant ships in the company of sailors as they criss-cross the seven seas. A lot of energy and a high-risk sense of adventure clearly went into the business of exporting wine!

Setting sail for the "All aboard!" attraction.
In the “Wine and you” section, there is a distinct shift towards the codes and etiquette associated with the consumption of wine. Exhibits include the “Banquet of legends” short widescreen film where famous wine-lovers from various periods throughout history magically come together; much wine-related mirth and merriment ensues. There’s Napoleon Bonaparte and Colette, Marie Curie, Churchill, Voltaire and Hitchcock, as well as the third US president Thomas Jefferson, who surprisingly at no time alludes to his previous (also wine-related) appearance on the Invisible Bordeaux blog.

Legendary wine-loving figures surrounding French actor Pierre Arditi, who appears as himself.
Next up are the twin “Art of living” and “Meet the experts” attractions, where authorities appear on big vertical screens to share their thoughts on wine-related rituals and give their top tips on wine selection, tasting, etc. The final facet of that section, the hands-on “Buffet of the five senses” is arguably the most fun of the whole Cité, with a whole host of objects to observe, scratch, squeeze, smell, listen to and feel, to sharpen all senses!

French media personality Ariane Massenet appears life-size on screen to talk wine and the "art of living". 
The all-squeezing, all-sniffing "buffet of the five senses".
Then the “Wine and the imagination” area brings visitors back down to earth with a very earnest and somewhat arty bump, firstly with “Divine wine”, an obscure other-worldly video installation, then with “Bacchus and Venus”, a bizarre private club-esque setup behind curtains where visitors recline on a comfortable, near-horizontal sofa and stare upwards at a circular screen where high art is projected to the sounds of atmospheric music. It makes you want to stroke your chin and wonder what it’s all about and probably seemed like a good idea to somebody somewhere.

Finally, the Bordeaux section, predictably enough, recounts the city’s “epic wine tale” on a large video wall, complete with its highs and lows, and delivers interactive panels so that visitors can familiarize themselves with the local appellations and the development of the wine industry throughout the centuries. Oh, and let's not forget that admission includes a glass of wine up on the eighth floor in the “Belvedere” bar, and that the wine tastes all the better when combined with the spectacular panoramic view over the city from the terrace walkway which stretches around the building.

The Belvedere bar in all its glory.
Just a small part of the splendid panoramic view over the city.
So, what works, and what doesn’t? Let’s start with the downsides. First of all, it must be said that visiting the Cité du Vin can easily become a very solitary experience. The headset concept is great but it does mean the place turns into something resembling one of those silent discos where everybody is dancing to a different tune in their earphones. Furthermore, it may have been a case of poor organization on my part, but when that was coupled with the lack of a set circuit, I for one regularly lost track of where the rest of my party was, and what started out as a communal project sometimes left me feeling more like a child lost in a supermarket. Speaking of kids… I know there is a dedicated kids’ tour that mainly takes in the fun, touchy-feely exhibits, but I do reckon it must be difficult for parents and children alike to satisfactorily synchronise their visit. As for teenagers, let’s not go there, I’m really not sure it’s a place for them but will gladly stand corrected if you know otherwise. The in-your-face technical wizardry is amazing, but you do go home feeling a few more hands-on activities would have been appreciated. And, as you will have gathered, one or two of the installations are a bit high-brow and not exactly brimming over with fun, but it takes all sorts!

Hello clouds, hello trees, it's the slightly strange "Bacchus and Venus" installation.
On the plus side, the sheer breadth of the formats and concepts of what is showcased is hugely impressive, and the tailor-made content that is piped into the exhibits is genuinely top quality and seamlessly consistent in terms of tone and approach. The scope of what is presented stretches way beyond Bordeaux, and this big-picture vantage point makes for a highly informative visit where even the most advanced wine connoisseurs will learn something new and find plenty to enjoy. And the bottom line is that however long you spend visiting the permanent exhibition, you can’t help feeling there’s still plenty more to view. It would no doubt take several visits to really digest everything that is on offer.

The takeaway is that the Cité du Vin truly is a world-class exhibition. It could be argued that the world of wine certainly deserved something as unusual, as creative and as imaginative as the Cité du Vin, and surely Bordeaux can be saluted for having delivered it.

> La Cité du Vin, esplanade de Pontac, 134 quai de Bacalan, Bordeaux
> Official Cité du Vin website: www.laciteduvin.com

> Ce dossier est également disponible en français !

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We’re in Bordeaux's Caudéran district to see the 300-seater La Pergola, a theatre set in a complex that is a case study in 1930s ...

La Pergola: Caudéran’s art deco theatre and multipurpose complex

We’re in Bordeaux's Caudéran district to see the 300-seater La Pergola, a theatre set in a complex that is a case study in 1930s art deco architecture and is among the select list of local buildings officially listed as 20th century architectural heritage (Patrimoine du XXe siècle).

When it was first built, La Pergola was regarded as a multi-purpose community hall (or salle des fêtes) to serve the locals, bearing in mind that Caudéran was, at the time, a fully-fledged town in its own right (it merged with its imposing neighbour in the 1960s). The local council had commissioned town architect Marcel Picard to conceive the building which was to comprise not only the main hall – which reportedly could originally accommodate up to 600 or possibly even 800 people – but also two wings, one of which was to house a gymnasium and shooting range, the other seven meeting rooms. Work began around 1927 and was complete in 1930.

Ninety years on, the façade remains more or less unchanged. Two tall columns (that each incorporate small lookouts that must offer killer views over the area) tower over the central section that has been embellished with some ornate bas-relief sculptures that were the work of one Edmond Tuffet (who also contributed to the Maison Cantonale in the Bastide quarter), and which represent music and drama. Other remnants of that period include a tiny ticket office window and the forged iron lettering above the doors to the two wings. The gymnasium is now a fitness room and also used for music rehearsals, while the meeting rooms are today home to a music school.

Details from the façade and the tiny ticketing booth.
Inside, many of the building’s original features have apparently disappeared over the years, but there’s still plenty to take in: some impressive tiled floors, a grand staircase and a fine first-floor foyer where the ornate columns link up nicely with the exterior. The large painting which dominates the staircase is a recent addition, although the artwork is inspired by a 1930s piece that is very much in keeping with the overall atmosphere of the place.

In the foyer and a view of the grand staircase.
And then there’s the theatre hall itself, with its neat rows of (recently refurbished) folding red chairs, its elaborate ceiling lighting system and its compact stage, flanked on either side by colourful mosaic fountain things which add a certain symmetry to the place and hopefully don’t distract too much from the action on stage.

The elegant lighting system and one of the understated mosaic fountains.
So why is the venue called La Pergola? The answer is to be found on the out-of-bounds terraces that run alongside the theatre, i.e. above the two wings. A series of truncated columns are all that remains of what used to be full-on pergolas, which must have been a particularly distinctive sight, so much so that that is how this multipurpose salle des fêtes became best known.

Traces of the actual - but long gone - pergola.
Over the years though, the multipurpose nature of the main hall has faded and La Pergola has primarily become a theatre venue that is mostly used by the Compagnie Présence theatre troupe. The company recently celebrated its 30th anniversary and has been synonymous with La Pergola since 1995 when the then Bordeaux mayor Alain Juppé agreed to let them use the facility free of charge. These days, some 3,000 performances down the line, the company puts on around a dozen shows each year for audiences of all types. And when La Pergola is not being used by the Présence thespians, the Bordeaux city council makes it available for other one-off events organised by various outfits.

Oh, and one more thing. Just across the road from La Pergola is a tiny police station, which has already made an appearance on the blog in an article about the distinctive snails of Caudéran which featured on the crest of the town in its independence days (and which can be spotted above the entrance). The building is very much a close cousin of La Pergola, dating from the same period, noticeably of a similar feel and colour scheme, and no doubt the work of the same architect!

> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: La Pergola, rue Fernand-Cazères, Bordeaux
> Big thanks to the Archimuse-Bordeaux student association who were our guides when we visited La Pergola during the 2018 European Heritage Days! (Yes, it's taken more than a year to get round to writing this article!)

> Cet article est également disponible en français !

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The tenth episode of the French-language Invisible Bordeaux podcast is now available and features Fleur, the independent tour guide ...

Podcast #10 - Fleur explore Bordeaux

The tenth episode of the French-language Invisible Bordeaux podcast is now available and features Fleur, the independent tour guide and blogger whose local slow tourism website Fleur explore Bordeaux compiles countless suggestions of things to see in and around the city either on foot or by bike, along with a number of reports and interviews.

Fleur and I met up on Place du Chapelet in the so-called Golden Triangle district of Bordeaux, on the spot where Passage Sarget, Notre-Dame church and Cour Mably more or less meet. She spoke about an interesting building that can be seen there (pictured above), and we went on to talk about the times she visited Chartreuse Cemetery, cycled around Arcachon Bay, headed out on an adventure in the suburbs of Bordeaux, as well as her interview with renowned street artist David Selor... and much more!

Here then is the podcast, which you'll also find on miscellaneous platforms including Anchor, Apple Podcasts/iTunes, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Breaker, PocketCasts, RadioPublic, Overcast, Podbean, Podcast Addict and Stitcher. Feel free to hit the subscribe button on the platform of your choice! And scroll on down for additional resources!

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

> Fleur explore Bordeaux website
> Cimetière de la Chartreuse visit
> Arcachon Bay cycling tour

> Bordeaux Metropole suburban stroll
> David Selor interview

> Social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest

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A few weeks ago I at long last got to visit one of the Bordeaux area’s most renowned UNESCO World Heritage sites: the ruins of Grande-S...

Exploring the ruins of Abbaye de la Sauve-Majeure

A few weeks ago I at long last got to visit one of the Bordeaux area’s most renowned UNESCO World Heritage sites: the ruins of Grande-Sauve Abbey, or Abbaye de la Sauve-Majeure, in the village of La Sauve, 30 kilometres to the east of the city in the Entre-Deux-Mers winegrowing region. Having regularly seen the romanesque abbey from afar I was already aware of its impressive scale, but I was looking forward to getting an inside view of this former Benedictine monastery. 

The abbey’s history can be traced back to the 11th century, when it was founded by Abbot Gérard de Corbie on woodland that was conveniently located mid-way between the Dordogne and Garonne rivers (or between two "seas"... entre deux mers!) and that had been gifted to him by the Duke of Aquitaine. The abbey developed and flourished, went on to become home for up to 300 monks at any given time, and established itself as a stop for pilgrims making their way along the Camino de Santiago route to and from northern Spain.   

The abbey as it was in the 17th century, as depicted in the Monasticon Gallicanum and stored by the Bibliothèque nationale de France (picture source: Wikipedia).
It was not all plain sailing though: the abbey suffered substantial damage during the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453), a powerful storm in 1665 heavily affected the roofs of the church, dormitories and refectory, and the structure was further weakened by an earthquake in 1759. The final blow was the French Revolution in 1789, at which stage the abbey’s assets were confiscated and dispersed for good.

Surviving buildings were used as a prison but, after the church roof collapsed in 1809, the site became a quarry for local villagers who used the stone to build their homes! Later in the 19th century a Jesuit college was set up, and was then converted into a teacher training college, until the site was once again vacated subsequent to a fire in 1910. Finally, during the First World War, the buildings that were still standing housed a small military hospital.
Inside the church.
Fast-forward to 1960 when the French State acquired the property and consolidated what remained of the abbey ahead of its opening to the general public as part of France’s Centre des monuments nationaux network of heritage sites, a turn of events that culminated in its 1998 listing as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The modern-day visit takes in the very visible remains of the abbey church, and the more minimalist vestiges of various monastic buildings. The latter include the chapter house where monks met for discussions and decision-making, the cloister which would have been a garden and place of prayer and meditation, the scriptorium where monks copied out texts (their dormitory would have been on the upper floor), and the refectory.
Top: what remains of the cloister, scriptorium and refectory (i.e. not much) and, bottom, what remains of the chapter house (i.e. not much, either).
Among the most striking things about the church itself are the relatively well-preserved consecration medallions portraying the apostles, and the series of extremely ornate carved capitals at the top of various columns that depict different Biblical scenes ranging from the original sin and Daniel in the lion’s den, to the life of Samson and the temptation of Christ. There are others which draw on mythological creatures and tales, such as (possibly) Homer’s Ulysses resisting the bewitching song of the sirens. It would take far too long to list them all here, but happily the French-language Wikipedia page about the abbey does a fine job at doing just that! There are also a host of niches, vaults, windows and doorways that must all have a thousand stories to tell. 
Some of the many carved medallions and chapters. On the left: apostles Saints Jude and Matthew; centre: Daniel and his large feline acquaintances; and on the right, what may or may not be Ulysses, slightly tied up and therefore fully equipped to resist the sirens' call!
In amongst the abbey's nooks and crannies.
The octagonal and no doubt restored bell tower was another unexpected delight. A winding staircase comprising 157 steps enables the abbey’s more courageous visitors to climb all the way to the top and enjoy a magnificent view over the village of La Sauve and the rolling plains of the Entre-Deux-Mers… not to mention over the roofless church itself. It all makes for an unusual juxtaposition of past and present.

The bell tower, the staircase and the view over the village.
Looking down on the church, its nave and chevet, including the chancel and adjoining chapels.
The sense of travelling through time extends to the neighbouring grounds, where a medieval herb and vegetable garden has been recreated, giving a sense of the quietly productive atmosphere that must have reigned at the time when the monastery was in full operation. 

Finally, the village of La Sauve itself is far more than just a backdrop to the imposing abbey. Some of the more unusual finds to be enjoyed include Saint-Pierre de La Sauve parish church (complete with some particularly exotic gargoyles), an old wash-house, and a 19th-century building which was reportedly one of France’s smallest prisons, if not the smallest, with its two tiny cells. Urban legends suggest it only ever got used once, or perhaps even never at all (La Sauve is clearly very low on crime).

La Sauve's tiny jail.
And, of course, the village’s presently-disused railway station can be viewed alongside what is now the Roger-Lapébie cycle path connecting Latresne with Sauveterre-de-Guyenne, providing an ideal, direct carbon-neutral route to La Sauve and its historic treasures!

> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Abbaye de la Sauve-Majeure, La Sauve
> Official website: www.abbaye-la-sauve-majeure.fr
> Full opening hours and practical information here.
> I also heavily recommend the self-guided walking tour of the area that you'll find by clicking here

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Invisible Bordeaux has switched back into English for this latest podcast, which revisits the tragic story of that night in 1959 when ...

Podcast in English - The 1959 Bordeaux air disaster

Invisible Bordeaux has switched back into English for this latest podcast, which revisits the tragic story of that night in 1959 when a Transports Aériens Intercontinentaux DC-7C crashed shortly after taking off from Bordeaux-Mérignac airport. 

Sixty years on to the very day, I headed back to the area in Saint-Jean-d'Illac where the crash occurred, meeting up with Chris Davey who, along with his travelling companion Paul, had cycled all the way from the south-west of England to view the area. His connection with the event is particularly poignant as Chris’s dad, James or Jimmy Davey, was among the 54 people who perished that night.

Here then is the podcast, in which I retrace the sequence of events that resulted in the crash, and talk to Chris about the story behind his journey in search of his personal history. 

You can also find the podcast on miscellaneous platforms including Anchor, Apple Podcasts/iTunes, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Breaker, PocketCasts, RadioPublic, Overcast, Podbean, Podcast Addict and Stitcher. Feel free to hit the subscribe button on the platform of your choice... 

> This podcast is an adaptation of the blog item published earlier in 2019 that you can find here, complete with archive and modern-day photos, and a map showing the crash area. 
> The obituaries of 'Jimmy' Davey and Hilary Morris can be found here.

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So yeah, water towers don’t get much press, do they? They stand tall and proud above our villages, towns and cities, “at a height suffi...

Gironde's finest water towers

So yeah, water towers don’t get much press, do they? They stand tall and proud above our villages, towns and cities, “at a height sufficient to pressurize a water supply system for the distribution of potable water, and to provide emergency storage for fire protection” (thanks Wikipedia), and here at ground level we barely notice them. Well, all that is about to change, as Invisible Bordeaux guides you through some of the Gironde’s finest water towers, and as you’re about to find out, they’re all fascinating for different reasons, starting with this one, which can be found in Le Porge.

What I find interesting about this 1950 water tower in Le Porge is its slender art deco style, complete with elegant lettering, and the fact it’s bang in the town centre, right between the mairie and the church, making it just about the most prominent local landmark. 

The most unusual thing about these two water towers in Saint-Médard-en-Jalles is how close they are to each other. They’re both located just inside the tall perimeter fences of massive grounds belonging to ArianeGroup, although many locals still refer to the area as “la poudrerie” given its centuries-old history of producing gunpowder and explosives. These days the facility produces the fuel and gases used to launch space rockets and missiles. 

This water tower in the hamlet of Blagon (part of Lanton) promotes far more leisurely liquid pursuits, in the shape of its faded advertisement for “Rhum St Esprit”. This brand of rhum was created by the Bordeaux wine trader André Teissèdre in 1867 and an article on durhum.com suggests the brand continued to be marketed until the 1990s.

The distinguishing feature about this next water tower in Cours-les-Bains is that it has been built at the highest point in the Gironde département. Some time ago, with my occasional travelling partner Vincent Bart (blogger and social media star) we went on an impromptu road trip to Cours-les-Bains just to see what would happen at such dizzying heights (altitude: 167 metres!). Possibly because we didn’t cope well with the lack of oxygen, nothing much happened at all, so we never got round to writing about the non-adventure… but I’m glad the water tower is getting a belated namecheck here.  

This 1970s water tower, in an area of Carcans known as Le Pouch, is possibly my favourite, just because of the slightly mad painting that was added when it was given a complete overhaul in 2010. The circular mural, which takes up the whole surface of the tower, was the work of one Francis Lecoq, a painter-decorator from central France. It’s all very cheesy but also quite likeable. And if you want to see how things used to be, check out the picture here.   

This is arguably a reservoir rather than a water tower (but at what point does one become the other?), but the incredible 1927 reinforced concrete structure in Talence known as the Réservoir de Lavardens deserves its 15 minutes of fame here. Despite its scale, little information about the place is available online, although one document I came across suggests the reservoir is no longer in use. (See page 90 here.)

I like this 1970s water tower in Le Haillan just because of its other-worldly, supersize-me scale. It’s some thirty metres tall and looks straight out of a science fiction movie. 

The Château d’eau de Montalon in Saint-André-de-Cubzac is of a similarly impressive scale, although it has more of an old-school feel with its small windows and openings. Above the ground-floor entrance, the name “Syndicat des eaux du cubzaguais fronsadais” appears in smart lettering. 

This spherical steel number in Ambarès-et-Lagrave is anything but old-school! The space-age tower can easily be spotted from the A10 motorway and is actually located within the grounds of the pharmaceutical company Sanofi.

There’s a similar retro-futuristic feel about this water tower in Lormont, which was erected around 1965. Apparently, an extensive reservoir can be found at the base of the tall tee which is holding up the golf ball-shaped tank. It has been known to look very different, such as the time the artist Olivier Crouzel projected pictures on to it, as pictured here and here

A much more conventional water tower can also be spotted in Lormont, in a densely-populated residential area. This one was built in 1952.

This water tower, which can be found in central Bordeaux on rue de la Croix-de-Seguey, looks like it should really be part of some medieval castle! It was in fact built in 1857 and is just one part of the enormous waterworks in the area, which also comprises the famous Paulin 13,000-cubic-metre underground reservoir, used to stock water that is piped in all the way from the north-western suburbs of the city.  

The shorter of these two water towers in Podensac was the first of influential architect Le Corbusier’s projects to roll out in France, and the 1917 25-metre-tall circular steel-reinforced concrete tower, which ceased to operate in 1940, has already been featured on the blog. It is set to be renovated and may even open to the general public in the coming years. Meanwhile, the taller, more modern tower on the left is probably just getting on with its daily water-related chores! 

And we finish off looking over rows of vines towards Château Segonzac in Saint-Genès-de-Blaye, whose magnificent water tower wouldn’t look out of place on the rooftops of New York, wouldn’t you say?

Of course, this is all barely forming a ripple in the surface of Gironde’s water towers, and I’m sure many readers will be in touch with fine examples I have either forgotten about or never knew existed. Fortunately, there is a whole website dedicated to France’s water towers (http://chateau.deau.free.fr) with a worryingly complete page about Gironde showing there are plenty more great water towers to be spotted in Barsac, Cestas, Cussac-Fort Médoc, Haux, Léognan, Libourne, Pauillac and Saint-Trojan, amongst others!    

> Ce dossier est également disponible en français !

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The eighth episode of the monthly French-language Invisible Bordeaux features one of Gironde's most famous radio voices, that of J...

Podcast #8 - Jean-Pierre Gauffre (radio personality, writer, actor and director)

The eighth episode of the monthly French-language Invisible Bordeaux features one of Gironde's most famous radio voices, that of Jean-Pierre Gauffre, who officiates daily on France Bleu Gironde. But Jean-Pierre, who started out as a journalist, is a master of many artistic trades, having written countless books, plays and stand-up shows... and founding a newspaper! 

In this chat we talk about the work that goes into his daily France Bleu pieces, the stories behind his live shows (the most recent being Les Monologues du Vin in which he dissects the world of wine), the thinking behind the Petit dictionnaire absurde & impertinent series of books, and his favourite haunts in Bordeaux and his beloved Médoc.

Here then is the podcast, which you'll also find on miscellaneous platforms including Anchor, Apple Podcasts/iTunes, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Breaker, PocketCasts, RadioPublic, Overcast, Podbean, Podcast Addict and Stitcher. Feel free to hit the subscribe button on the platform of your choice! And scroll on down for additional resources!

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

> Jean-Pierre Gauffre's website provides full information about his work and can be found here: http://jeanpierregauffre.fr/
> His daily France Bleu Gironde piece can be heard here.
> The full series of Petits dictionnaires can be found on the Féret website here.

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A few weeks ago I was once again out and about overlaying old postcards on the same modern-day views of Bordeaux. Among those pictures c...

Lodoïs Lataste’s ode to Bordeaux (and anthem to mutuality)

A few weeks ago I was once again out and about overlaying old postcards on the same modern-day views of Bordeaux. Among those pictures connecting the early 20th and 21st centuries was this one of the Jardin Public, and the card featured some lines from an “Ode à Bordeaux” written by one Lodoïs Lataste. Who was Lataste and what more do we know about his ode to the city? 

Lodoïs Lataste was born in Bordeaux in 1842 (and died in 1923) and various sources suggest that throughout his career he headed up a mutual benefit society in Bègles, was the deputy general secretary of the French mutualist press union, and – in Paris – was in charge of the drafting reports and laws passed by France’s lower parliamentary house (chef du service des procès-verbaux et de l'expédition des lois de la Chambre des députés). But Lataste was also a writer and composer, delivering, amongst many others, the lyrics to a work known as “Le rêve de l’orphelin” (1866), writing the words and music for a piece called “Fontainebleau !” in 1888, and also the patriotic work “Les deux sœurs”, celebrating the ties between France and Russia (1894).   

Above all, Lodoïs Lataste is remembered for his 1904 “Hymne à la Mutualité”, an anthem that takes the form of a military marching tune. On the Musée de la Mutualité française website, the piece is described as “a piece of patriotic bravura in every sense of the word; General André, Minister of War, requested it be played in military parades and the anthem asserts itself as an educational act in favour of the reforming doctrine of mutuality”. Lataste earned a new nickname and became the "Rouget de l’Isle of mutuality", Rouget de l’Isle being the composer of France’s national anthem la Marseillaise.

While hunting down further information about Lataste’s anthem to mutuality, I came across a blog run by one JC Togrege, who had discovered an original score of the piece in among documents that had belonged to his parents. Togrege states that "In total, there are six couplets that include emblematic words such as freedom, proletarian classes, workers' pensions, social happiness, providence, etc." He also adds that "it is easy to poke fun at this largely bombastic style, but do not laugh at the values ​​that are proclaimed. Remember that [France’s] Social Security system only dates back to 1945! Before that date, social protection was the domain of the mutualists, first and foremost through the mutual benefit societies that were the ancestors of today’s mutualist private insurance companies."

A musical score dating from 1905 as originally featured in a dedicated article on the Chroniques de JC Togrege blog (recommended reading!).
How about Lataste’s Ode to Bordeaux then? Obviously, the excerpt that features on my 1913 postcard praises the joys of the Jardin Public (the name of which rhymes in French with that of the Flemish Baroque artist Anthony van Dyck…):

Un ravissant Eden où coule une rivière
Près des lilas en fleurs, c'est le Jardin Public.
On y voit des babys jouant sous l’ombrière,
À tenter le pinceau d’un Greuze ou d’un Van Dyck.

(A lovely garden of Eden where a river flows
Near the lilacs in bloom, this is the Jardin Public.
We see toddlers playing in the shadehouse,
Scenes that could have been painted by Greuze or Van Dyck.)

Thanks to the wonders of the worldwide web, I have found two further postcards that also showcase Lataste’s written tribute to his home city. Here is what he had to say about the Tourny statue:

Source: mistercard.net
Ce joli monument consacre la Mémoire
D’un Maire de Bordeaux, l’Intendant de Tourny.
La splendeur de nos quais est entière à sa gloire,
Il sert toujours d’exemple aux Maires d’aujourd’hui.

(This pretty monument consecrates the memory
Of a Mayor of Bordeaux, the Intendant of Tourny.
The splendor of our quays is entirely to his glory,
It still serves as an example to today's mayors.)

And here is his homage to Gustave Eiffel’s now-disused iron railway bridge that spans the Garonne:

Salut beau Viaduc, jeté sur la Garonne
Imposant et léger ainsi qu'un arc-en-ciel !
Celui qui te conçut a parfait sa couronne
En créant à Paris la belle Tour Eiffel !

(Let us salute this fine viaduct that crosses the Garonne
As imposing yet as light as a rainbow!
The person who conceived you perfected their crown
By creating the beautiful Eiffel Tower in Paris!)

So there we have three verses of Lataste’s poem to the glory of Bordeaux, but just how many verses and questionable rhymes were there in all? In ancient Greek literature, an ode was traditionally made up of seven verses, so if Lataste applied that rule what other four city sights did he immortalize in poetry? As I have yet to find the full text, that pleasing sense of mystery will remain… unless you can help me reconstruct, in its entirety, Lodoïs Lataste’s ode to Bordeaux. If you can, do get in touch! 

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This story starts in the garden outhouse of a colleague, who earlier this year was doing some renovation work in the Bordeaux-Caudéran ...

Finding the little boy in the old photograph

This story starts in the garden outhouse of a colleague, who earlier this year was doing some renovation work in the Bordeaux-Caudéran residence she moved into in 2017. She came across a small metal Kodak Plus-X 35mm camera film canister. On the lid it was specified that the film was to be developed by October 1955. She opened the box and found a long roll of negatives inside. 

Her natural reaction was to head to a nearby camera shop to get the negatives converted into digital files, and what emerged from the film were no less than 51 priceless pictures: family photos at home, out on picnics and relaxing on the beach in Arcachon, pictures of Caudéran and Mérignac covered in deep snow, and what appears to be a child’s birthday party. There were also lots of cars and family pets!
When my colleague showed me and others her unexpected finds, I instantly thought of the subject as a potential Invisible Bordeaux item. And when she showed us this incredible Robert Doisneau-like scene of a kid and an adult sitting on the bumper of a car, I realised that the logical challenge was to track down that child 65 years down the line! Where could he be and where could we start? 

The previous occupiers of the Caudéran house had acquired the property in 2000. The related paperwork noted that the sellers at that time had been one Jacqueline D. and her two children Jean-Claude D. (born 1948 in Talence, residing in Draguignan, south-eastern France) and Christine Marie D. (born 1956 in Bordeaux, residing in Louviers, northern France). Cross-referencing with many of the photos featuring a little boy, including the two birthday party pictures where the cake sported seven candles, there was a fair chance that that little boy was Jean-Claude who, over time, could conceivably have become one of the owners of the property. 

I had instant dreams of triggering a massive search on social media but instead chose the old-school “pages blanches” online telephone directory, and soon tracked down a Jean-Claude D. in a town some thirty kilometres from Draguignan, and sent a message providing a brief explanation of what had been found. Later that same day, my phone rang, and it was one Stéphane D., confirming that, yes, it was his dad on the photos.

This 1955 picture of the seafront in Arcachon was among the finds 64 years down the line!
He explained that the house had originally belonged to Stéphane’s great-grandparents (i.e. Jean-Claude’s grandparents), and Stéphane himself had fond childhood memories of the house and the surrounding area. In the 1950s, the young Jean-Claude would spend his holidays there with his parents, and activities were captured as stills by his father, a keen amateur photographer. I promised to send Stéphane the pictures, which he would then show his dad. I zipped the files and sent them to him. 

The next day, my phone rang once again, and this time it was Jean-Claude himself calling from south-eastern France. He was suitably delighted with the surprise package and to be discovering these photos almost 65 years after they were taken. We quickly established that the place where the canister had been found had been the location of the darkroom where his dad developed his own photos. Viewing the pictures, most of the faces were familiar and Jean-Claude recognized family friends, uncles and aunts, not to mention the cousins alongside him in the pictures that immortalized his seventh birthday celebrations! 

Jean-Claude's seventh birthday party in October 1955! Check out the lovely radio in the background.
Jean-Claude pointed out that the pictures of snowbound Caudéran were taken in the winter of 1956, which was one of the coldest spells on record in France and throughout much of Europe. He also mentioned that the picture of a new-born baby was that of his sister Christine, in the arms of their uncle and aunt. 

Finally, the picture which had triggered the quest was of him with a friend of his father, somebody he remembered as being a good-natured “clown” and who, upon closer inspection of the photo, was clearly enjoying a monster-sized ice cream. The car behind them was a now-classic Renault 4CV. Of course, for this mission to be truly accomplished we really needed to be able to finish off this report with a photo of Jean-Claude today posing in a similar way against a car. I have therefore requested a 2019 remake of that picture which had remained hidden away for all those years and hope to be able to add it to this report sometime in the future. To be continued? 

Anyway, there you have it, the story of how finding an old roll of film resulted in an interesting  small-scale investigation! One final thought: now that we are very much in the midst of a digital age, will future generations launch into similar quests upon coming across old USB drives and memory cards? Will digital data survive as long as those negatives did? We’ll see in sixty years’ time… so, to paraphrase Disco 2000, the famous Britpop-era hit by Pulp, let’s all meet up in the year 2080!  

> Big thanks to Agnès for sharing the photos and to Stéphane and Jean-Claude for filling in the gaps! 
> Cet article est également disponible en français !

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