[Ce dossier est également disponible en français] A few weeks ago, the good people of Université Bordeaux Montaigne celebrated t...

Revisiting Bordeaux as seen through the lens of a 1970s student

A few weeks ago, the good people of Université Bordeaux Montaigne celebrated their 50th anniversary by publishing photos submitted by people who had studied or worked at the establishment over the years. A couple of posts comprising pictures sent in by one Steve Owen really caught my eye and prompted me to check out his Flickr gallery, where he had published further views of sights and scenes throughout the city, as photographed by Steve himself and by one Patti Larson.

I thought it might be interesting to head back to those same locations nearly fifty years down the line to combine the then and now in single shots… so that is precisely what I did over a couple of weekends, after first checking with Steve that he was happy to see his photos being given this new lease of online life, hence the pictures you can see here!

Place de la Bourse. Steve's original photo sought to demonstrate the difference between the cleaned-up and dirty façades. The modern-day view is conspicuously free of parked cars!
Porte Saint-Éloi/Grosse Cloche. The curve-heavy building on the left is no more.
The view from the top of rue Sainte-Catherine in its pre-pedestrianised era. The photo at the top of the article also shows rue Sainte-Catherine, as seen from place Saint-Projet.
In our correspondence, Steve confirmed that he had been a student at what was then Bordeaux III University during the 1971-72 academic year, as part of the University of California’s Education Abroad programme. “At that time Bordeaux was the only location in France for UC undergrads, and there were 100 of us. We spent six weeks in Pau getting language training, then the academic year in Bordeaux. We took the regular French courses, although UC had to set up separate testing and grading because the two systems were pretty different. I was a History major, and most of the courses I took during his time in Bordeaux were History courses, although I also attended one Art History course that met in the old medical school facility on Place de la Victoire.”

Who then was the Patti Larson credited with many of the pictures, and who also appears on some of the shots? “She was another student from California, and also my girlfriend from about the time we left Pau in late September. We were married in 1974… and went on to have two sons and two granddaughters.”

Patti and Steve posing in the doorway of the house on rue Mouneyra where Patti lived during their year in Bordeaux.
Restaurant universitaire / Bordeaux étudiants club on rue de Cursol.
Steve’s experience in France triggered an interest in French history, and he ended up going to grad school to study it. He and Patti came back to France in 1978-79 and spent ten months living in Paris while Steve worked in the archives. “My academic career never materialized, however, and we both ended up working in administration at U.C. Berkeley, retiring about nine years ago.” Patti and Steve returned to Bordeaux in about 2005 and “we were impressed with how much the city had improved… and how much worse the university campus looked!

Place de la Victoire, including a lovely Renault 12, and signposts to Agen, Mont-de-Marsan, Pau and Toulouse.
Highway code awareness sessions in Parc Bordelais.
Carnival parade season in Talence.
What are Steve’s enduring memories of his year in Bordeaux? “I have very fond memories. Many of them revolve around Patti of course, but my time there (and several weeks in Paris at various times) also led to a fascination with France in general. At the time I was struck by the differences in outlook and living styles between California and France, so the time had kind of an exotic feel about it. France and California are much more similar today, but I am still fascinated by how the French do things. As for Bordeaux itself, I enjoyed myself, but was not unduly impressed with the city at the time. Later, I developed a greater appreciation for the place, due perhaps to the power of nostalgia or to how much better it looked when we went back. We are hoping to make it back again in the next few years!”

Patti and Steve, Bordeaux will welcome you back with open arms!

Here is a video version of the report:

> Click here to view Steve Owen's other 1970s Bordeaux pictures in his Flickr gallery. If you scroll down that page, you may even spot a photo of Steve and Patti today!
> View the original Université Bordeaux Montaigne Instagram posts by clicking here and here.
> Big thanks to Steve and Patti for allowing the photos to be used in this article, and a shout out to Université de Bordeaux Montaigne whose initial posts led to this piece.
> Ce dossier est également disponible en français !

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