During the recent Musical Écran festival organised by the Bordeaux Rock association (coincidentally also part of the most recent Invisible...

The late Gilles Bertin, the reformed punk rocker/bank robber who spent 30 years on the run

During the recent Musical Écran festival organised by the Bordeaux Rock association (coincidentally also part of the most recent Invisible Bordeaux blog item), one of the music documentaries I got to see was the incredible “Punk – Il était une fois Gilles Bertin”. The hour-long film, directed by Eugénie Grandval, tells the remarkable story of how a key player on the 1980s Bordeaux punk rock scene was part of a high-profile heist, disappeared off the map completely for 30 years, then sought redemption and to rebuild his identity from scratch. 

The story goes that Gilles Bertin was born in Paris in 1961 before spending his formative teenage years in Bordeaux. As soon as he was able to leave behind his home and his civil servant parents he did just that. He moved into a squat and, in 1981, became the vocalist and original bassist of the punk rock band Camera Silens. The group, who tended to hang out around Place Saint-Projet and the Saint-Pierre quarter, were soon big on the local scene, winning high-profile battles of the bands, and they rapidly developed a nationwide following. 

Early 1980s Camera Silens publicity shot, Gilles Bertin to the right.

The band’s relative success however was not providing enough income to fund Bertin’s heroin addiction, and so he fell into a life of petty crime and robberies, which adhered to the rules of thumb he and his cronies – mostly artists, fellow drug addicts, and anarchic activists – had set themselves, i.e. that this would generally involve stealing from The Man and that nobody would get hurt in the process.

By 1986, this darker, illicit existence outweighed Bertin’s musical career and he split from Camera Silens. Then, in 1988, he and his partners in crime were involved in their most notorious coup: a large-scale operation, reportedly two years in the making, involving home-made replica police uniforms and a fake police car, a finely-tuned scenario and mock interrogations. The heist enabled them to steal more than 11 million francs in banknotes (around 3 million euros in today’s money) from the Brink’s warehouse located in Toulouse. 

Over the following two years, the various members of the gang were caught one after the other. But Bertin had managed to escape to Spain’s Costa Brava, leaving behind not only his homeland but also his partner and newly-born son Loris. While on the run (an international arrest warrant had been issued), as well as spending all his money he met one Cecilia, with whom he moved to Lisbon where they opened a tiny but influential indie record store which operated for ten years. 

Camera Silens performing 'Réalité' for FR3 in 1985. Click here if video does not display properly.

Needless to say, officially Bertin no longer existed and the fugitive went by various names including Didier Ballet. The plot thickened though when in 1995 Bertin fell ill, and it emerged that his years of heroin addiction had finally caught up with him: he was HIV positive and had contracted AIDS. Despite being at death’s door, he was saved first by a hospital in a Communist-run town where no questions were asked about his identity, then by the advances of research and the administration of triple combination therapy. 

In the early 2000s, Bertin and his partner relocated to Barcelona, running the bar owned by Cecilia’s parents. The couple had a child together, Tiago, whose birth in 2011 led to Bertin deciding the time had come to open up about his past and move forward with a clean conscience. In November 2016, he chose to return to France to hand himself in to the authorities. 

As detailed in the documentary, by then Bertin was no longer really considered a public enemy, and if anything his reappearance was not especially welcome as it revived a cold case (and therefore multiple layers of paperwork and admin) that was no longer considered relevant by any of the parties involved. But Bertin was nevertheless put on trial and, thirty years on from the heist, was sentenced to a five-year suspended sentence, therefore escaping a stay in jail. 

By becoming a free man able to live life in the open once again, from then on Bertin was able to connect with his first son Loris (whose mother had died in the intervening years), took the time out to collaborate with Libération journalist Jean-Emmanuel Escarnot on drafting his memoirs (Trente ans de cavale : Ma vie de punk, published by Robert Laffont in February 2019 – Escarnot passed away before its release), and divided his time between Toulouse and Barcelona, where he continued working in the bar alongside Cecilia, and raising Tiago. 

Bertin during a meet and greet event to promote his book in 2019.

But, given that the authorities had declared him deceased in 1992, another of Bertin’s priorities was to obtain his French identity documents. This became a long and drawn-out battle which eventually lasted three years, with some of the Catch 22 situations being caught on camera in the documentary. He was finally given his new ID card on August 2 2019 but, just days later, his health ailing once again, Bertin fell into a coma. He died on November 7 2019 in Barcelona, aged 58. 

The Musical Écran screening of the documentary, the first time it had been shown as part of a film festival in France, was an emotionally charged event. Many friends and contemporaries of Gilles Bertin were in the audience, and Eugénie Grandval was herself present to explain how the documentary had initially set out to be the uplifting story of the reformed Bertin regaining his identity, but instead finished up as a sad tale tracking the administrative nightmare of his final years. 

Bertin’s partner Cecilia was also present (she had symbolically brought along his trusty briefcase), and highlighted how much that final administrative ordeal had taken out of Bertin. His first son Loris, who is still based in Bordeaux and is now a prominent player on the local techno music scene, also spoke about how his relationship with his father had gradually developed over his final years. Finally, Bertin’s solicitor was on hand to shed further light on the rebirth of the former punk rocker. 

As somebody who was very vaguely familiar with the Gilles Bertin story, having skim read press articles that came out when he reemerged into the public domain and once again when he passed away, it was an absolute privilege to be given this more extensive glimpse into the life and times of the reformed punk/bank robber. 

And, what can I say, the Eugénie Grandval documentary – the production of which was initially triggered by an article the director had read in Libération – is compelling and essential viewing. It has already been broadcast on terrestrial TV in France, has been screened at other festivals around the world, and does happen to be available on Youtube in its entirety. I’m not sure how legal the upload is but do yourself a favour, set aside 58 minutes of your time, and take in this incredible story. “Once upon a time, there was Gilles Bertin...” 

Click here if video does not display properly.

Recommended reading to dive deeper into the Gilles Bertin story: the Libération interview available by clicking here, French performing rights society SACEM's collection of musical archives, Sud Ouest's biographical overview featuring a number of great videos, and a look back on Camera Silens over on Rue89Bordeaux

Stills featured in this article taken from the France TV press package released to promote the documentary.

Ce dossier est également disponible en français !

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Throughout November and December 2022, a host of commemorations and events will be held to mark the 80th anniversary of Operation Frankton, ...

Operation Frankton 80th anniversary events and conferences in Bordeaux

Throughout November and December 2022, a host of commemorations and events will be held to mark the 80th anniversary of Operation Frankton, which ranks as one of the most incredible tales of Bordeaux’s dark wartime years (and which has already been featured on the blog): ten Royal Marines set out from the Atlantic, canoeing down the Gironde Estuary in order to plant mines on German cargo ships docked in central Bordeaux. Only two of the so-called Cockleshell Heroes, Herbert "Blondie" Hasler (1914-1987) and Bill Sparks (1922-2002), survived the mission. After escaping inland to Ruffec, near Angoulême, members of the French Résistance guided them across the Pyrenees and onto to Gibraltar, from where they departed for the UK.

Friend of the blog Jean-Claude Déranlot and his association, Operation Frankton History & Values, have conceived a rich series of events including a number of French-language conferences, as detailed below: 

- 1942 : L’année bascule

Speaker: Stéphane Barry, Docteur en histoire, Directeur des éditions Memoring
> This conference took place on Thursday November 3 

- Le cahier noir du journal “La Liberté du Sud Ouest”

Speaker: Gilles Robert
> Tuesday November 15, 18:30, Salle 46, Athénée municipal Joseph Wresinski, Place Saint-Christoly, Bordeaux 

- La Garonne et l’estuaire en 1942

Speaker: Éric Veyssy, Directeur et Médiateur culturel « Fleuve / Eau/Climat », Docteur en Biogéochimie de l’environnement
> Wednesday November 23, 18:30, Salle 46, Athénée municipal Joseph Wresinski, Place Saint-Christoly, Bordeaux 

- Le Renseignement de la France

Speaker: Jean-Claude Déranlot
> Thursday December 1, 18:30, Salle 46, Athénée municipal Joseph Wresinski, Place Saint-Christoly, Bordeaux 

- L’Opération Frankton

Speaker: Jean-Claude Déranlot
> Thursday December 8, 18:30, Amphithéâtre Athénée municipal Joseph Wresinski, Place Saint-Christoly, Bordeaux  

- Une mission, des hommes, une équipe, un chef

Speaker: Jean-Claude Déranlot
> Sunday December 11, Cap Sciences museum

- Mauriac et la guerre

Speakers: Anne-Marie Cocula, Présidente du Centre François Mauriac, and Astrid Llado, Responsable des projets d’éducation artistique et culturelle du Centre François Mauriac.
> Wednesday December 14, 18:30, 18:30, Salle 46, Athénée municipal Joseph Wresinski, Place Saint-Christoly, Bordeaux 

In addition, official commemorations will be held in Bordeaux (near Hangar 14 on the Garonne waterfront) and Blanquefort (Château Magnol) on December 9th, and a group of canoes will paddle into Bordeaux on Sunday December 11. An exhibition will also be held at la Maison écocitoyenne on Sunday December 11. 

Download the programme with full practical information by clicking here. 

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Back in the late 1970s/1980s, the rock music scene in Bordeaux was renowned throughout France as being particularly active and dynamic. The ...

Welcome to the Bordeaux Rock 1977-1987 listening party!

Back in the late 1970s/1980s, the rock music scene in Bordeaux was renowned throughout France as being particularly active and dynamic. The city was home to countless grassroots venues, was the subject of reports on nationwide TV programmes, and all this culminated in flagship local band Noir Désir gradually establishing themselves as one of France’s top acts.


A few years on from those halcyon days, in 2005, the still-evergreen musical association Bordeaux Rock produced a double-CD collection of tracks by various bands and solo singers who were part of that scene. The impressive package, illustrated by the talented Bordeaux artist Jofo, included photos and biographical information about each of the artists featured, making for an excellent compendium of and introduction to the period. 

In the impressive package, every artist gets their own page.

These days, the compilation is actually quite desirable (certainly if the authoritative online resource Discogs is to be believed). And, guess what, my good friend Olivier, bassist with my musical project Slowrush, actually owned two precious copies and generously gave one of them to me. Hurrah!

To get the full Bordeaux Rock experience, I decided to sit down and give the compilation a thorough, neutral listen. In fact I would have to approach it with an especially open mind: the liner notes provided a word of warning that the sound quality varied according to the nature and state of the source materials (mostly transferred from studio reels and vinyl, but also sometimes cassette tapes), and the main challenge faced by the person in charge of mastering the tracks was to create a coherent whole. This sounded ominous but I was curious to hear how it all fitted and flowed together.  

Looking through the alphabetically organized track listing, none of the artists were familiar, other than Noir Désir and, possibly, the Stilettos, whose name I may have come across here and there. Yes, this would truly be a musical journey through time into the unknown. Inserting CD1 into my player, was I about to make an exciting discovery, in amongst the 41 artists (plus a bonus three whose contributions predate the period at hand)? I hit play and started taking notes.

A compact disc at the ready - older readers may remember these.

Immediate highlights are the no-nonsense guitar and harmonica-led pub rock of Art-314 and the strummy, melodic Californian pop of the aptly-named Beach Lovers, which still sounds fresh and tight. ‘X Ray’ by Bolton (er, Bolton? Why?) mix and match guitars with some nascent electronica, and they sound like just the kind of band that might be called upon to open for Indochine and The Cure (which is precisely what happened).

Hmm, next up is a band that went by the mildly amusing/slightly rude name of Les Cons, except that the moniker was a reference to The Jam’s legendary All Mod Cons album, and you could definitely hear the influence in there, with the energetic instrumentation and sharp harmony vocals. And a little further in, the Flying Badgers sound even more inspired by the British scene (their bass player was actually from Sheffield) – the arrangement is among the most creative on the compilation, and the melody is catchy, definite sing-in-the-shower material.

Gamine’s ‘Julie Julie’ is described as a mid-period track by a band that would later go on to achieve widespread commercial success with their album ‘Voilà les Anges’. They are followed by Hangar 21 featuring, yikes, fine vocals by a female singer. We’re 13 tracks in and Catherine Politoff (for it is her) is only the second female name to be listed among band personnel. Hangar 21 sound like a cross between Nena, Blondie and The Pretenders.

Philippe Jolly is a surprise package and sounds unlike anything else on the compilation, with a big arrangement complete with brass section, keys, backing vocals… it’s the kind of studio performance that leaves you itching to have heard more in a live environment (Jolly reportedly died in 2010). The same could be said of Lucky Monkeys, with their very 1980s slap bass and big choruses, and Le Mix’s acoustic guitars, jangly harmonics, and imaginative backing vocals, whose ‘Aux USA’ features some pleasing changes of direction and dynamics… and some killer key changes!                 

CD1 closes with ‘Somebody To Love’ by Nightshift, described in the liner notes as being inspired by Elton John and Squeeze. This is something that can easily be perceived in the piano arrangement, the meandering melody and the soulful backing vocals. 


The central spread in the booklet. No, I don't know who any of these glum gentlemen are either and there's no caption. Photo taken on the right bank of the Garonne in central Bordeaux and credited to Alain de la Mata.

The inevitable Noir Désir kick off CD2 with the moody, atmospheric and slightly stressful ‘Danse sur le feu Maria’, from their debut album. This segues surprisingly well into the piano-driven, Beautiful South-like ‘I Got It Bad’ by The Owls, featuring Englishman Terry Wood on vocals. The booklet blurb suggests the group showed great promise and were on the verge of being signed by the Barclay record label, until the deal fell through and the band folded.

The following succession of bands, Poupée Cassée, Réverbère, Rotten Roll, and Les Scurs, kind of sound the way you would expect bands with names like that to sound. Once again, it takes a solo artist to break things up nicely, namely Patrick Scarzello and all 1’25’’ of his chirpy, old-school ‘La Clope’. 

Spina Bifada are described as being one of the first Bordeaux bands to use samplers, resulting in a more hypnotic, experimental sound than most of their contemporaries. Their track (conveniently entitled ‘Spina Bifada’, what were the odds?) is among those on the album that have arguably aged the best over the years.  

The dynamic, post-punky Stilettos are next up, and deserve a notable mention because they featured in their ranks the influential José Ruiz, a long-time mover and shaker on stage, in the media, and behind the scenes in and around Bordeaux. He founded and remains president of the Bordeaux Rock association, which continues to conceive and produce a whole host of events, including the annual Bordeaux Rock festival, Plages Pop series of concerts, and the Musical Ecran rock documentary festival. Way to go, José.  

Just when you feel you’re about to OD on the constant flow of male testosterone and distorted guitars, the unexpected Takenoko pop up, with one Vanessa on lead vocals, providing a pleasing, airy melodic overlay to the pitter-patter of synths and a rudimentary drum machine. There’s also a very 1980s sax solo thrown in for good measure. Checking the credits, I notice that the keyboardist and co-songwriter is an online acquaintance, Bruno Aujard. [Note: I got in touch with Bruno ahead of this article going live, and he was delighted to hear that his band's legacy was still be being unearthed and explored. You can hear their output over on Soundcloud.]

The raucous Wet Furs track ‘Au lit les bébés’ closes proceedings, ahead of the surprising aforementioned inclusion of bonus tracks by 1960s and 1970s artists Tony March & Ses Blousons Noirs, Absinthe, and Salty Dog. It’s an interesting way to utilize the available CD space but does also make for a bizarre way of signing off. Were the songs drafted in because, as the booklet explains, the bands Camera Silens, Les Exemples, and Kid Pharaon declined to be part of the compilation?   

The track listing in full.

Anyway, what is the overall verdict? Well, in spite of the mastering engineer’s fears, the collection does make for a coherent listen. Aside from a few exceptions, these are self-produced heads-down recordings of bands capturing their live arrangements on tape, making for energetic recordings but perhaps generally short of unusual musical ideas or instrumentation… and given that a vast proportion of the bands were the classic vocals/guitar/bass/drums formation, a few decades on many of them sound a touch… interchangeable. The exceptions to that rule (such as Philippe Jolly, Spina Bifada, and Takenoko) come across as especially refreshing.

It also has to be said that, a-hem, there wasn’t much in terms of lyrical content to get excited about. Perhaps it’s the lo-fi recording technology used by many here, but much of the time it’s actually impossible to make out what is being said, whether in French or English. However, once again, there were a few positive surprises in the mix (Noir Désir and Les Stagiaires spring to mind). To be fair though, when you're mainly intent on belting out 99 decibels of noise every week at Le Jimmy, coming up with subtle lyrics is possibly not priority #1!

The compilation admittedly sells itself as delivering rock… so rock is pretty much what you get, and fairly punky rock at that. Listening from start to finish, there is little or no hint of what was going on elsewhere around the same time. In the UK, this period was synonymous first with the rise of new wave and synth pop bands, ahead of the melodic indie sounds of groups like The Smiths and Lloyd Cole & The Commotions taking root. Stateside, dominant sounds included the post punk movement that gave us Talking Heads, followed by the alternative college rock scene led by R.E.M.. But there’s little sign of those movements here, other than in the tracks offered, say, by Flying Badgers, Le Mix, and Gamine.  

Finally, going through the track listing one last time, Les Stagiaires, Stalag, Les Standards, Steel Angel, Les Stilettos, Stillers, STO, and Strychnine would no doubt recommend that the best starting point for a Bordeaux band is to pick a name that begins with the letters S and T! There was definitely a bit of a trend there; it reportedly harks back to the influence of the (Rolling) Stones and The Stooges!

All in all, listening to the compilation made for an unusual musical trip through time in search of a scene which may be no more, but that has certainly developed and evolved into the musical scene that can still be sensed today in venues such as Rock School Barbey and the Krakatoa. And I, for one, will certainly be further exploring the careers of artists like Spina Bifada, Philippe Jolly, Takenoko, Flying Badgers, and The Owls, whether online or in the real world.

So vive Bordeaux Rock and, a few years on from that 2006 release, congratulations to everyone involved in producing this compilation (apparently a full year in the making), which forms a very worthy and valuable musical time capsule!



> Big thanks to Olivier Rols for kindly giving me a copy of this rare musical artefact! 

> Find out what the good people of Bordeaux Rock are up to these days by checking out their website: www.bordeauxrock.com

> Ce dossier est également disponible en français !

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Among France’s box office hits of the 1980s, Les Fugitifs is one of the most fondly-remembered by cinema-goers, and still gets regular scre...

On the trail of 'Les Fugitifs' in Bordeaux

Among France’s box office hits of the 1980s, Les Fugitifs is one of the most fondly-remembered by cinema-goers, and still gets regular screenings on terrestrial TV. And, it just so happens that a number of the film’s key scenes were filmed in Bordeaux! Invisible Bordeaux teamed up with Jérôme Mabon, who runs the excellent La Pellicule Bordelaise blog, to track down some of the locations and to attempt to merge those scenes from the 1980s with the city as it looks in 2022!

Source: mauvais-genres.com

Les Fugitifs
, written and directed by Francis Veber and released in 1986, was one of a trilogy of his films that starred legendary actors Gérard Depardieu and Pierre Richard as recurring characters Jean Lucas and François Pignon, the others being La Chèvre and Les Compères. The supporting cast in Les Fugitifs also included veteran thespian Jean Carmet, and child actor Anaïs Bret, who put in a wonderful performance as widower Pignon’s young daughter, Jeanne. 

Les Fugitifs
opens with Jean Lucas (Depardieu) being released from jail, a reformed man having done his time for a number of bank robberies. Trying to pick up the pieces, he heads to a bank to open a bank account, but is himself caught up in an attempted bank robbery conducted by the hapless François Pignon (Richard). After messy beginnings the unplanned encounter results in the two men (later joined by Jeanne) being on the run, and the film recounts how they more or less manage to stay one step ahead of the authorities. 

Some key opening sequences were filmed on location in Bordeaux, such as this one featuring Lucas/Depardieu and two police officers outside Mornier jewelers, who are still very much present on Rue Sainte-Catherine. Although they are sat in a car, by the 1980s the street had already been fully pedestrianized! 

The action then switches to Place Saint-Michel. Lucas/Depardieu can be seen crossing the busy square and crossing the road to a branch of the fictional bank BNT. The following scenes, set inside the “bank”, were shot in a studio setting. 

When news of the attempted bank robbery reaches the police, the officers promptly stick their flashing blue light on the roof of their glamourous unmarked Renault 20 and make a spectacular turn on Place Tourny, almost colliding with a bus in the process. 

Once the officers reach Saint Michel, along with a small army of riot police, this being the 1980s, it interrupts an aerobics class taking place on the first floor of a typical Bordeaux building.

Now on the run together, the two unlikely heroes crash a stolen car into a building site on Rue de Macau (where the Jardins de Tivoli residence can now be found), a quiet residential street which is a surprising place to have served as a backdrop for scenes from a box office hit! They then turn their attentions to another car which pulls up opposite (a rather smart Porsche 944, thanks Patrick!), dispose of the driver (who has turned up for a romantic date), and make a swift getaway. 

The plot thickens when Pignon/Richard reveals to his reluctant partner in crime that he has a daughter. She is soon collected, then father and child negotiate some of the narrow streets of Bordeaux, before abandoning their means of transport ahead of a police barrage… and the pair head into Galerie Bordelaise to do a bit of window-shopping. 


After various twists and turns, Lucas/Depardieu ends up watching over young Jeanne and they spend a night sleeping rough in a warehouse on Rue Terre des Bordes, which runs along the southern side of Saint-Jean railway station. 


Using the latest in a long series of stolen vehicles (this time it’s a Caraïbos delivery van), the fugitives end up first outside and then inside the Jardin Public., and once again narrowly escape being arrested by the police.

But that is where we will leave Gérard Depardieu, Pierre Richard, and Anaïs Bret, given that the film’s other exterior scenes were shot in Meaux, near Paris, and (possibly) in the French Alps… so if you wish to find out what happened next, and want to know whether the fugitives somehow managed to avoid getting caught, you will have to hunt out the film for yourself… or wait until it is next shown on TV!


You could also watch the US remake of the film, Three Fugitives, which starred Nick Nolte, Martin Short, James Earl Jones, and Sarah Doroff (and was also directed by Francis Veber)… but which does not have the added bonus of featuring scenes filmed in Bordeaux!

View the original trailer of Les Fugitifs:

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

Click here to see the trailer of US remake Three Fugitives


Read Jérôme Mabon's La Pellicule Bordelaise French-language take on this same photo report over on La Pellicule Bordelaise!


Ce dossier est également disponible en français.

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Architect and friend of the blog Mathias Cisnal has penned a book, published by Éditions Le Festin, about his specialist subject: the distri...

Recommended reading: Mathias Cisnal’s guide to the Mériadeck quarter

Architect and friend of the blog Mathias Cisnal has penned a book, published by Éditions Le Festin, about his specialist subject: the district of Bordeaux which is like no other, Mériadeck! And, guess what, the book is rather brilliant!


Anyway, did you know that the central esplanade of the Mériadeck quarter is, in essence, built on a mass formed by the compacted rubble of the houses that used to stand there? Did you also know that 35 years passed between plans being drawn up for a building to fill the space between the Ibis and Novotel hotels, and that building actually being completed (now known as Immeuble Laure-Gatet)? And did you know that somewhere in the depths of Meriadeck, a room houses a slot car racing club with several circuits, including a wooden one dating from the 1960s?


Well, those are just some of the more unusual facts shared by Mathias in the 96-page, heavily-illustrated and full-colour book, Mériadeck, parcours en ville, which has also been designed to provide the bigger picture of what the district is all about. An opening essay details how the area developed from marshlands into one of Bordeaux’s rootsier – and sometimes seedier – neighbourhoods, before sharing the story behind the large-scale urban experiment conducted from the 1960s onwards by mayor Jacques Chaban-Delmas, resulting in the misunderstood high-rise administrative and residential district we know today.

Three suggested itineraries provide a means of getting under the skin of Mériadeck, the first focused on the central area, the others taking in zones along the eastern and southern edges. Each building to be spotted en route is described in detail, using terms that are architecturally precise and yet written in a style that is very accessible and easy to read.

The book also includes biographical information about the architects involved, and does not stop at the modern-day constructions, taking in sights including Villa Rohan on Cours d’Albret and the World War I Memorial. The sculptures and statues dotted here and there are also included. Of course, the Mériadeck shopping centre gets its own chapter, and entries are also given over to some of the more unusual features to be taken in, including a couple of voluminous air vents, and some of the more substantial staircases! Finally, the book lists the times Mériadeck was used as the setting for films, TV series, ads, and music videos.

In short, this is the authoritative guidebook that the Mériadeck district deserved and will prove to be a fascinating, revealing, and rewarding read, whatever your feelings about this area, which has always been a thorny and decisive subject in Bordeaux!  

Mériadeck, parcours en ville (Le Festin) is available in all good bookshops in and around Bordeaux and online!

P.S. Don’t forget that a couple of years ago, I sat down with Mathias to talk about the Mériadeck quarter. It resulted in this French-language podcast, which is still available to listen to here!

Click here if player does not display properly on your device.
You can also find it on miscellaneous platforms including Anchor, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Player FM, PocketCasts, RadioPublic, Overcast, Podbean, Podcast Addict and Stitcher. Feel free to hit the subscribe button on the app of your choice!

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It is 11:30 on Saturday July 2nd 1988, deep in the farmlands of Eysines, and the relative silence is broken by the sound of a Transall C-160...

The day a West German military aircraft crash-landed in the fields of Eysines

It is 11:30 on Saturday July 2nd 1988, deep in the farmlands of Eysines, and the relative silence is broken by the sound of a Transall C-160D military transport aircraft crashing to the ground. Miraculously, the six people on board all survived. What happened? 

The aircraft belonged to the West German air force. It had departed earlier that morning from Landsberg, near Munich, and was one of a fleet flying into Mérignac with a view to picking up German paratroopers who had recently completed exercises alongside French counterparts at the Camp de Souge military base in Martignas-sur-Jalle. 

A modern-day German Air Force Transall C-160, like the one involved in the crash. The aircraft type is currently being phased out in France and Germany, and being replaced by the Airbus A400M Atlas. Picture source: Wikipedia.

Reaching la Gironde, the Transall had entered its approach phase when the pilot realised the left engine had cut out. With the plane virtually gliding and rapidly losing altitude he steered it away from the flight path, and in the hope of avoiding built-up areas pointed westwards towards the fruit- and vegetable-growing plains of Eysines, with a view to conducting an emergency landing. 

However, with landing gear now in position and flying just a few metres above the ground, an unexpected and unwanted obstacle appeared: high-voltage power lines. There would be no way of rising above the cables, so the pilot attempted instead to guide the plane underneath. That is when the wheels of the aircraft hit the banks of the “jalle”, the stream that runs through the heart of the Eysines vegetable-growing patches, and the plane twisted and turned over a short distance before breaking up and coming to a sudden halt… at a spot not far from where the Cantinolle terminus of tram line D can now be found. 


Aerial picture credited to Caroline Marmolat (from an Airlec helicopter) which featured in the Monday July 4 1989 issue of Sud Ouest, incorporating a dotted line showing the trajectory of the aircraft, and Eysines-Cantinolle roundabout in the background. Source: Sud Ouest archives.
The same area at ground level today, note the jalle over to the left, and power cables towards the right of the picture.

Four of the six crew members were immediately able to escape from the wreckage, the two others had to be cut free by rescue services. All were transported to Bordeaux’s Pellegrin hospital, where it was soon established that three had come out of the ordeal totally unscathed, while the three others – though initially considered “seriously injured” – ultimately suffered little more than a few broken bones. As early as the next day, they were able to assist investigators with their enquiries. Meanwhile, the 48 paratroopers who were set to return home were no doubt shaken when they heard the news, wondering what might have been had the aircraft being fully loaded when the faulty engine cut out. 

A couple of days later, local newspaper Sud Ouest ran an interview with one Pierre-Élie Baron, who was among the first on the scene of the crash: “I saw the plane go by at a very low altitude, just above the treetops. An engine had cut out because the left propeller was no longer turning. There was a loud thud and I knew it had crashed. I jumped on my bike and got to the crash at the same time as the gendarmes who were patrolling the Majolan caves." So it certainly made for a busier afternoon than expected for the gendarmes who had been assigned to the notoriously peaceful Majolan park in Blanquefort…


Sud Ouest coverage of the accident, including the interview with Pierre-Élie Baron. Photos credited to Caroline Marmolat and Guy Martineriq (?). Source: Sud Ouest archives.

Monsieur Baron added: “One of the pilots had been ejected. I asked him how many were in the plane and he answered in German. He was totally shaken, poor man! There were guys trapped but none of them were moaning or screaming. It was impressive!"

Vegetable farmer Francis Barrière was also interviewed, he actually owned the plot of land where the plane crashed: “That very morning, I was ploughing just 50 metres away. It's a miracle that there was no one in the fields at that time.”

If things turned out the way they did, much can be attributed to the exemplary work of the emergency services, who were quick on the scene, providing an efficient and effective response. This was saluted a little later, on March 7 1990, at the Ornano fire station in central Bordeaux, when 16 members of the emergency services were awarded distinctions of merit by the German military, in the presence of the mayor of Bordeaux, the German consul, and various Bundeswehr dignitaries. The formal ceremony was followed by a festive reception, technically hosted by German authorities, who provided (reportedly substantial quantitites of) beer on tap for the 300 guests, including the six crew-members of the Transall. 

It was certainly an upbeat epilogue for this plane crash with its own happy ending… the outcome of which was all the more poignant so given that it occurred just six months after the AF1919 flight from Brussels to Bordeaux came down barely two kilometres away in Eysines, resulting in the death of all 16 people on board. The late 1980s were clearly quite a period in the skies above Eysines. 


> Locate on the Invisible Bordeaux Googlemap: Site of 1989 Transall C-160D plane crash, Eysines

> This article was almost entirely based on articles from back issues of Sud Ouest available on the 'Archives' section of the newspaper's website.

> Ce dossier est également disponible en français.

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In order to know everything there is to know about the 'Talitres In Waves' event being held on Saturday September 17 in Bordeaux, an...

Sean Bouchard tells all about record label Talitres ahead of the 'Talitres In Waves' evening of museum courtyard concerts

In order to know everything there is to know about the 'Talitres In Waves' event being held on Saturday September 17 in Bordeaux, and more widely about the independent record label Talitres, Invisible Bordeaux talked to Sean Bouchard, founder and director of this highly international Bordeaux-based label. French-language podcast below!

"I have always wanted to create bridges with other artistic fields, to decompartmentalize things, to create concerts in singular places, to propose a different experience." - Sean Bouchard

The (sorry, THE!) most unmissable event in September will be taking place on Saturday 17th, during the European Heritage Days weekend, in the delightful courtyard of Bordeaux’s Museum of Decorative Arts and Design. We give you 'Talitres In Waves', an exceptional evening organized by the Bordeaux label Talitres in partnership with the Museum and Musiques de Nuit (part of the Rocher de Palmer structure), showcasing Talitres artists along with various other cultural happenings.

Two of the label's standout artists will be performing live. At 8:30 p.m., the Anglo-Lebanese musician Nadine Khouri and her musicians will be unveiling tracks from the album Another Life (produced by the legendary John Parish), to be released on November 18, and which Talitres announces as "a work of stunning beauty in which the arrangements offer majestic breath to these impressionistic songs and to Nadine Khouri's voice, that suspends, stretches and prodigiously becomes part of us".

Then, at 9:30 pm, the stage will host the lush orchestral pop of the most surprising of musical bedfellows, Maxwell Farrington & the SuperHomard (performing as a five-piece band). The coming-together of Farrington's smooth crooner vocals with the imaginative, seductive arrangements penned by Christophe Vaillant (AKA the SuperHomard) has already resulted in the album Once and the EP I Had It All. Ranking somewhere between The Divine Comedy, Scott Walker and Burt Bacharach, it is fair to say that Invisible Bordeaux is very much a fan...  

To find out more about Talitres as well as the background and the objectives of the 'Talitres In Waves' museum courtyard concerts, proceed with confidence to this podcast discussion (in French) with Sean Bouchard. He reveals all about the creation of the label, the Talitres philosophy, his collaborations with artists such as The Apartments and Laish, gives inside information about the work done recently with Maxwell Farrington & the SuperHomard and Nadine Khouri, the advantages of being a label based in Bordeaux, the current context for record companies, and what the future holds for Talitres! It makes for a fascinating and rewarding listen, enjoy! 

Click here if player does not display properly!

You can also listen to the podcast on miscellaneous platforms including Anchor, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Player FM, PocketCasts, RadioPublic, Overcast, Podbean, Podcast Addict and Stitcher. Feel free to hit the subscribe button on the app of your choice!

Vital stats about the event

> Talitres In Waves - Soirée Musicale & Rencontres Culturelles
> Saturday September 17 2022 – doors open at 7:30 p.m.
> Musée des Arts Décoratifs et du Design, rue Bouffard, Bordeaux
> Beverages and nibbles supplied by Café Madd by SIP
> €15 advance / €17 on the door
> talitres.com / +33 5 56 91 71 45

Sneak previews of Maxwell Farrington & Le SuperHomard and Nadine Khouri:

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(Very) long-time readers of the blog will no doubt fondly remember the time, back in 2014,  when I hooked up with fellow blogger Vincent and...

Back to Puynormand and the place where the Greenwich meridian and the 45th parallel north intersect

(Very) long-time readers of the blog will no doubt fondly remember the time, back in 2014, when I hooked up with fellow blogger Vincent and my son Dorian to explore the ultimate “invisible” subject, namely the virtual point where two virtual lines intersect virtually: we give you the confluence point between the Greenwich meridian and the 45th parallel north! Hurrah! 

As you will have gathered by quickly cross-referencing with the terrestrial globe you invariably have on hand, the place is of particular interest to anyone with the slightest interest in geographical oddities: this is the very spot that lies not only exactly mid-way between the equator and the North Pole, but also where east also becomes west (or west becomes east). And yes, it’s in Gironde, by the side of a road that runs between Saint-Seurin-sur-l’Isle and Puynormand (it is technically located on the territory of the latter), around 60 kilometres to the east of Bordeaux. 

Back in 2014, Vincent, Dorian and I braved the pouring rain to hammer in a homemade wooden sign that would provide a marker showing where the meridian and the 45th parallel met. At the time, there was nothing there to indicate the exact spot, and our rudimentary sign survived a number of years (and was even ceremonially photographed by a number of latitude/longitude confluence enthusiasts, who post their discoveries online).  

The very basic sign we hammered into the ground, in the pouring rain, in 2014.

But, perhaps even more memorably, thanks to a chance encounter, our time in Puynormand included an unplanned audience with one André Stanghellini. He was the founder of “Greenwich / 45°”, a small association which seeks to raise awareness of this oddball place and which had developed ambitious plans to create a fully-fledged visitors’ area, complete with car park, a sizeable monument and a series of information panels. It made for a fascinating conversation. 

Back in the present (August 2022), some eight years on, Puynormand and its unique confluence happened to be conveniently located close to the itinerary of a four-day cycle trek planned with my wife and father-in-law. I could not let up this opportunity to catch up with Mr Stanghellini once again, and hear what progress had been achieved in the intervening period. He was only too pleased to oblige!

Part of the new sign visible on site.

Once again, we met at his home in the village of Puynormand, which no longer serves as a maison d’hôtes, but was nevertheless full of life the day I was there, as André and his wife Marie-José were in the company of their son Pierre and family, who were all over from their home in Hong Kong. I asked him what had changed since 2014. 

“We have tried in vain to make things happen and many promises have been made, but nothing has really happened, largely due a lack of finances. However, one major step forward is that the land itself was bought by the local mairie and is now ‘terrain communal’. As we have the full support of the mayor, we were at least able, a year or so ago, to install a large permanent marker.” 

Indeed, I was actually already aware of this sturdier marker, having recently read a blog article written by retired schoolteacher François Remodeau who has set himself the challenge of walking the length of the Greenwich meridian from northern England to southern Spain (François was in touch with me and we had discussed André Stanghellini’s plans!). 

André Stanghellini and Greenwich meridian adventurer François Remodeau (photo courtesy François Remodeau).

André added that “we used durable equipment that had also been employed for the sign outside our maison d’hôtes, it should withstand all the elements! Nevertheless, we would still like to take things further. Ultimately, our twin objective is of course to materialize the confluence, but also to provide the back-story, and give a pedagogical guide to what it all represents in terms of the history of structuring and calculating time and space, enabling navigation, and so on. There is a definite chance we may at least be able to install some information panels with the help of a teacher.”

Marie-José also mentioned that, in the meantime, “the confluence has undoubtedly become a bit of a local landmark, we even incorporated it into a Heritage Days visit of the area – that is where the walk ended up!”

The new roadsign, a general view of how little there is to actually see on site, and a close-up of the marker in all its glory.

And although plans for the full-on visitor centre seem to have been dropped, the dream of a more substantial and more emblematic work of art is also still on the cards. André explained that “we are hoping to approach a renowned Bordeaux-based metalwork artist whom we think may be keen to install a piece in such a unique location.” So, just perhaps, a few years from now, people whizzing through the countryside on the A89 motorway or the Départementale 123 will be able to spot a tall sculpture showing where the two imaginary lines meet! 

Leaving André and his delightful family behind (André signed off with a warm and sincere “Vive l’amitié franco-britannique”), I cycled down to see the new sign for myself, and was also happy to see there was now an arrow indicating the way from the main road. On site, I realized there were two other more makeshift additions to the landscape, in the shape of separate wooden signs representing latitude and longitude. After taking a few photos, I headed off eastwards to nearby Ménesplet where my travelling party was spending the night. 

One of the other wooden, slightly crucifix-like signs.

Once again, eight years on, it had been strangely enjoyable to visit something that doesn’t actually exist, due in no small part to having a second chance to witness the drive, enthusiasm, and good humour of André Stanghellini. Invisible Bordeaux (along with the meridian adventurer François Remodeau) certainly hopes his plans do come to fruition! Vive Puynormand!

> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Convergence between Greenwich meridian and 45th parallel North

> Click here to read the account of François Remodeau's trek along the Greenwich meridian (as far as northern Spain for now!)

> Click here to read about the 2014 Puynormand adventure

> Ce dossier est également disponible en français !

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Invisible Bordeaux has provided words and pictures for a five-page spread about the city of Bordeaux for UK magazine The Simple Things, curr...

Bordeaux 'My City' feature in the August 2022 issue of The Simple Things

Invisible Bordeaux has provided words and pictures for a five-page spread about the city of Bordeaux for UK magazine The Simple Things, currently available from news outlets in the UK and to purchase online. 

In the piece I provide an inside view on what makes the city tick and what makes it different, places to see, food to try, how best to get around Bordeaux, and much, much more, including a personal tour with some useful recommendations. Hopefully it serves as an interesting and accurate introduction to the “Port de la Lune”! And yes, it may even feature a canelé!

> Click here for further information about the “Drift”-themed issue and to order a copy

> The Simple Things website: www.thesimplethings.com

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