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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