Friday September 22 2023 was an unusual day in Bordeaux. From the off there was a sense of occasion and with good reason: Bordeaux was hosti...

All about the day King Charles III visited Bordeaux and the one-off Great festival

Friday September 22 2023 was an unusual day in Bordeaux. From the off there was a sense of occasion and with good reason: Bordeaux was hosting King Charles III and Queen Camilla on the closing leg of the State visit which began two days earlier in Paris. One of the focal points of the day was the Great festival held on Place de la Bourse and, guess what, I was there to soak up the atmosphere!

To say the royal agenda in Bordeaux was dense would be an understatement. In a little under six hours they managed to meet and greet local dignitaries at the City Hall (and planted a tree alongside Bordeaux mayor Pierre Hurmic), salute the Marines on board HMS Iron Duke, ventured to Martillac to view the organic working methods of Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte… and while Charles visited the experimental urban forest development in Floirac, Camilla split to see how the good people at Le Pain de l’Amitié are providing food for those in need. 

And, in the midst of all that, the Place de la Bourse had been converted into a pop-up festival to promote much of what the UK does well (as part of the Great Campaign) as well showcasing a number of Bordeaux initiatives and companies, all to the live soundtrack of hand-picked up-and-coming artists, both local and from the UK. 

Place de la Bourse in festival mode. Note the umbrella, it came in useful.

It is a little unclear precisely what the criteria for attendance were (we had all received personal invitations from the UK embassy in France) but it made for a delightful and sometime surprising cross-section of the Bordelais and expatriate population. Ahead of me in the queue to get in were some extremely tall and wide Union Bordeaux-Bègles rugby players. Male and female Girondins football players were there in their club tracksuit tops (along with coach David Guion). A little further I recognized the influential local artist Jofo. There were a number of people in uniform, sometimes sporting impressively bushy sideburns. Oh, and could that be the entire Fiji rugby team, whose World Cup base just happens to be in Lormont? Different cultural universes colliding. 

Once "inside" the Place de la Bourse, which is usually such a familiar open-access spot, it was incredible to see how the square had been momentarily transformed, framed by a number of tents housing UK and Bordeaux brands such as Paul Smith, Gilbert, and Baillardran, initiatives such as the inspiring Le Café Joyeux, a company which has conceived wine bottles made from paper, cheeses from a local épicerie, and stands promoting UK tourism, cultural and educational drives. (My favourite exhibit was a life-size (?) Shaun the Sheep... although spotting Paddington wandering around the event wasn't bad either...) 

A massive stage was the centrepiece of the event, although much of the crowd wasn’t really paying much attention to the artists who were performing (Tyrone Isaac Stuart and Rianne Downey), despite the valiant bilingual attempts of compere Darren Tulett (the TV presenter and football pundit). And then the music stopped… 


For, the time had come, a tram sporting diminutive Union flags pulled up to the Place de la Bourse stop and there was a collective sense of hushed anticipation as the Royal delegation alighted and moved its way along the red carpet which had been laid out over the square’s cobblestones (a wise move given that the intermittent showers had made for a slippery surface!). UK foreign secretary James Cleverly rushed past me virtually unrecognized, that is how focused everyone was on Charles and Camilla… or mainly, to be honest, on Charles, who took time to make his way through the crowd, stopping to chat with one or two lucky onlookers, including one person stood right next to me, giving me plenty of time to take some once-in-a-lifetime closeup shots! In the meantime the PA had picked up again, making for the strange combination of a royal walkabout to the sound of Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill. 

As the party made its way around part of the pop-up marketplace, local solo artist I Am Stramgram began a short set, battling with technical issues and general indifference but providing a memorable performance that closed with an interesting reinterpretation of the Beatles’ Yesterday. I managed to catch up with him afterwards and we agreed that it was a fairly surreal experience for him but that it would go down as an unusual and virtually unique line on his musical CV! 

I Am Stramgram, providing the Royal walkabout soundtrack.

By now, the Royal party had made its way to the main stage and UK Ambassador to France Menna Rawlings made a well-received speech (name-checking the local family she had stayed with when she attended courses at the Alliance Française in the city) before handing over to Pierre Hurmic, who good-humouredly saluted the King and Queen, underlining how Charles’s environmental concerns were a long-standing constant. The crowd then eagerly awaited a few words from the King himself. He edged towards the mic, silently mouthed something or other (I’m not great at lipreading but I think it might have been "Wasn’t I Am Stramgram great, sorry he’s ended up standing next to James Cleverly") and gave a wave. That was a momentary anticlimax but he was soon forgiven, he did have a plane to catch, after all. 

And then came what was arguably the unexpected (and possibly unplanned) high point. As the Royal party reached ground level once again, the entire Fiji rugby team congregated nearby, Darren Tulett was told to switch off the PA music, and the players broke into a traditional Fijian folk song. In perfect harmony. It was beautiful and inspired. Everyone had goosebumps. 

As Charles and Camilla moved on to their next engagements, another surprise was in store. Over to another corner of the square, the band of the Royal Marines were settling into position, bringing singer-songwriter Caity Baser's set to a momentary close. Before you knew it they were parading up and down the square providing 15 minutes of world-class marching band music. From my vantage point it was possible to enjoy the ensemble while also being able to focus on individual instruments and parts as they walked back and forth. Can I mention goosebumps again? 

Ladies and gentlemen, it's only the Royal Marines band. In Bordeaux!

The festivities had not yet come to a close but most attendees had already left, making for a strange, other-worldly atmosphere when Bilbao King Fu took to the stage. They had a handful of people in front of the stage, and a few enthusiastic punters stationed to the wrong side of the barriers way over on the other side of the square. It must have been a strange experience for them but they delivered. 

As the crowd had dwindled I was easily able to locate my Consulate acquaintance who I was able to personally thank for the invitation to attend this unique and memorable event. Other than all of the above, I don’t think I will ever again be able to say that over the course of a single afternoon I was able to openly chat to real, live Girondins footballers about recent results and prospects for the season; personally thank local music mogul Eric Roux for the Ouvre La Voix festival and the fantastic concerts he puts on at Rock School Barbey; talk to renowned wine author Jane Anson about Twitter (X) algorithms only to be interrupted by the sound of two Rafale fighter jets flying overhead; observe Fiji rugby players enthusiastically tucking into complimentary Tyrrells crips… and, yikes, I even got my very own selfie with Darren Tulett! Oh, and I also happened to see the King and Queen of my home nations. It really was quite an afternoon… Thanks to everyone who was part of it and made this incredible event happen!

Girondins, crisps and Darren Tulett, what a combination.

P.S. This unique day had started off with a live early-morning radio interview on France Bleu Gironde, talking about the Royal Visit and some of the background and its political context. You can view it here: 


0 commentaires:

Not long ago at the remarkable Emmaüs charity outlet in Parempuyre, I picked up a couple of out-of-print books by the historian Pierre Décam...

Wartime Bordeaux meets the city in 2023

Not long ago at the remarkable Emmaüs charity outlet in Parempuyre, I picked up a couple of out-of-print books by the historian Pierre Décamps (1912-2004): 1940-1944, la Gironde en Images (published by SODIM in 1977) and Bordeaux sous l’occupation (Ouest France, 1983). Both feature some incredible photographs documenting Bordeaux during the Second World War. I set off in search of the same locations in order to merge the 1940s and the 2020s in single shots. The accompanying captions are adaptations of the information shared by Pierre Décamps in the books, all original photos were credited to the Bordeaux Centre Jean Moulin collection.

The disturbing sight of the swastika flying outside the Gironde préfecture on Cours du Chapeau-Rouge, which housed the German army central command centre. The contrast with the massage parlour which is now next door is striking.
These ladies seem to be enjoying their city-centre stroll past fortified shelters and blockhouses built by the Germans at the base of Pey-Berland tower…
During the Second World War, le Théâtre Français (now CGR Bordeaux Le Français cinema) was a cinema which was reserved for German army soldiers, hence the "Soldaten Kino" sign (Soldiers' Cinema).
"French [citizens]... Listen every day to the voice of the Reich". German Information Service sign in front of the Jardin Public terrace.
Place de la Bourse: the British bombardment on the night of December 8-9, 1940 certainly left its mark. 
The caption provided by Pierre Décamps states that "This German billboard, installed on Place de la [1918] Victoire in Bordeaux, indicates the victorious march of the German armies in Russia and the location of the battlefields where the Soviet armies were annihilated in 1941."

It’s all about the bronze: removal, on December 6, 1941, of the bronze statue of former president Sadi Carnot, erected on Place Jean-Jaurès. 

Next to the now empty plinth, the sign reads "By working in Germany, you'll be an ambassador for French quality".

French citizens enrolling to work for Germany show up at the "Bureau de placement", 103, rue Sainte-Catherine.
August 28th 1944, a group of "Maquisard" Resistants from the Blaye area pictured on Rue Esprit-des-Lois in Bordeaux (the road that runs alongside the Grand Théâtre opera house), just as the city was being liberated. 
August 28th 1944, Bordeaux students celebrating the city’s liberation. At the head of the procession, the sign proclaims "À poil les Fritzous, vive les étudiants" (which could be conservatively translated as "the Germans have been disrobed, long live the students"). 
Members of the FFI (Forces françaises de l’intérieur) are celebrated by a crowd of happy onlookers on Place Gambetta. 
Dancing in the street: the effigy of a German soldier hangs outside the headquarters of the General Student Association on Cours Pasteur. You can sense the joy in this picture, and no, we're not necessarily talking about the adult shop over to the right! 

0 commentaires:

We are in the Saint-Genès district of Bordeaux, not far from the boulevards, visiting the unusual complex that is la Maison Saint Louis Beau...

Inside la Maison Saint Louis Beaulieu

We are in the Saint-Genès district of Bordeaux, not far from the boulevards, visiting the unusual complex that is la Maison Saint Louis Beaulieu, the diocesan home of the Catholic Church in Gironde. Open to the general public, the Maison is a surprising place to behold… particularly its chapel, library and pleasant grounds.


The history of Maison Saint Louis Beaulieu goes back to the mid-19th century when the Carmelite religious order set up a convent and a chapel, with hermitages dotted around the grounds. In the early years of the 20th century, the Catholic diocese rented the premises to house a seminary, purchasing the land and existing buildings in 1910. Over the following decades, the condition of the property gradually worsened until a full reconstruction began in 1937 to the plans drawn up by renowned architects Louis and Marcel Garros. This resulted in the main building, which still stands tall and proud today, and the intriguing art deco chapel (pictured below), consecrated in 1946 by the Apostolic Nuncio to France, Monsignor Angelo Roncalli, later to become Pope John XXIII.

Unusually, the chapel’s configuration has rotated 180° over the years, with the main entrance initially being street-side, on Rue Saint-Genès, but access now solely being possible via the cloister. The Parisian artists Jean Gaudin and Louis Mazetier provided the decorative touches of the chapel’s mosaics and tiling. The stained glass windows all seem laden with cryptic references. One, for instance, comprises the coats of arms of the city of Bordeaux but also of Bazas, which along with the dioceses of Agen, Angoulême also sent their students to Saint Louis Beaulieu from 1955 onwards. The organ was manufactured by the German company Merklin in 1892 (its most recent overhaul occurred in 2017) and was in the original chapel.

The street-side view and what used to be the main entrance to the chapel (situated behind what is now the altar).

Beyond the pretty cloister/courtyard and the café-restaurant (see lead photo at top of page), a door leads to the library of the Bordeaux diocese, home to some 90,000 books about religious science stored across over four kilometres of shelving. Usually the reading room alone is open to the general public, but our visit tied in with the European heritage days so we were given a glimpse of the inner workings of the library and some of its oldest and most prized possessions.

From there on into the peaceful grounds, tucked away behind the main building. The first most prominent sight is a modern metallic work of art, 'le Chêne de Mambré', produced by Bordeaux artist Christophe Conan. Beyond its aesthetic delights and its designated role as a “meeting place”, the tree features on its leaves the names of benefactors who helped fund the renovation work carried out here in recent years.

Christophe Conan's 'Le Chêne de Mambré'.

Wandering on through the grounds, other than the vegetable patches, herb gardens, and compost heaps, there is an old chapel to be spotted here, a chicken run there, and the inevitable statue of the Virgin Mary, which apparently fell on bad times in recent years. It was smashed to smithereens by unknown night-time intruders and had to be meticulously rebuilt from scratch by an expert at the Louvre museum in Paris. The ultimate 3D puzzle!

Scenes from le Jardin de Beaulieu.
As grumpy as they appear to be, the Madonna and Child actually look as good as new after their recent mishap.

My time here also enabled me to find the exact vantage point to be able to reproduce the view on an old postcard I’d picked up many moons ago before even knowing where the picture had been taken. The postcard, which is captioned overleaf as “Grand Séminaire de Bordeaux - Grand Bâtiment”, includes a hand-drawn circle indicating the postcard-writer’s room – who was the mystery resident at the time? To know just a touch more, the text of the postcard is included at the foot of the article!

Although the living is clearly very gentle here, Maison Saint Louis Beaulieu remains a very active place, and is arguably as dynamic as ever. Other than the aforementioned facets, its website also refers to it being home to the Pey Berland training institute, a number of meeting rooms (which can be rented out for seminars and the like), a bookshop (La Procure Beaulieu), and the studios of the RCF Bordeaux catholic radio station. And the café is as pleasant a place as any for a quiet afternoon cup of tea or similar!

Oh, and one more thing: who exactly was Saint Louis Beaulieu? Well, Louis was born in 1840 in Langon near Bordeaux and went on to be ordained as a priest at the Overseas Missions Seminary in Paris in 1864. He ended up stationed in the mountains near Seoul, Korea, where the presence of foreigners was forbidden. Denounced and arrested, he was executed six months short of his 26th birthday. More than a century later, he and others who met the same fate in Korea were canonized by Pope John Paul II.

> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Maison Saint Louis Beaulieu, rue Saint-Genès, Bordeaux.
> Official website:
> Thanks to students from the Archimuse association who organised this European Heritage Days visit in 2022.
> Here is the text of the undated postcard in full (presumably, Miou was a cat...): 

 Mon cher Jean-Pierre. Cette vilaine carte t'apporte mon bon souvenir pour ton anniversaire. J'espère que tout va bien à Lyon. Ici ça va. On termine l'année. Je te fais donc un méga bise, ainsi qu'à Miou et je prie bien pour vous. Fafa.

My dear Jean-Pierre. This ugly card brings you my best wishes for your birthday. I hope all is well in Lyon. Things are fine here. We're ending the year. I send you and Miou a big kiss and I'm praying for you. Fafa.

> Cet article est également disponible en français !

0 commentaires:

Imagine my surprise when I was out on my bike somewhere between Lacanau and Carcans-Maubuisson, on a stretch of cycle path which is among th...

Étang de Cousseau nature reserve: towers, telescopes and one of la Gironde's finest views

Imagine my surprise when I was out on my bike somewhere between Lacanau and Carcans-Maubuisson, on a stretch of cycle path which is among the prettiest there is in Gironde, and I saw signposts to “la Réserve naturelle nationale de l’étang de Cousseau”. I decided to investigate – what would I find?


I veered off the main cycling route and off down a lane, which stretched on for a kilometre or so, until I was met with the sight of a row of wooden bicycle racks ahead of a gate. I locked up my bike and continued on foot, all the while heading downhill, following a narrow and twisty footpath. It all felt very wild and then, to the left, the idyllic sight of a large expanse of water filtered through the trees, and that was soon followed by a wooden viewing platform. I had very much arrived and the sight to behold was as splendid and as spectacular as you’ll get to see anywhere, period.

The nature reserve – in essence a lake along with an extensive area of marshland – covers a surface of 882 hectares (the lake alone accounts for 50 hectares) and has been open to visitors since 1976. In a way, the reserve gives an idea of the way things were way back, the way back in question being prior to the 19th century when humans re-moulded the Landes landscape and ocean coastline.

Information panels welcoming visitors.

From what I can make out (and it may turn out that this paragraph will have to be rewritten when somebody tells me otherwise), along the Atlantic coast, sand dunes would develop, rising and falling, preventing the inland waters from reaching the sea, forming the great freshwater lakes of Lacanau and Hourtin. Elsewhere, the land was stabilized through the plantation of maritime pines, and the surrounding land was irrigated to make it more habitable. However, in this hillier part of the region it was more difficult to plant maritime pines, and so the wild marshlands have prevailed, providing a home to a rich and ever-developing ecosystem of plants, trees, birds, mammals, and insects.    

Among the wildlife present on site, the national nature reserves website notes various species of toads, frogs, newts, roe deer, wild boar, badgers, otters; more than 200 species of birds including osprey, greylag geese, white spoonbills, black-headed gulls, cranes and ducks; while around 70 species of birds come here to breed, including white-winged goshawk, hobby falcon, marsh harrier, buzzard and black kite. Oh, and let’s not forget Cousseau’s miscellaneous reptiles, amphibians, dragonflies (39 species) and butterflies (50 species). I suppose we could go on but if we do we could be here for some time…

Happily, all these constantly evolving facts and figures are permanently monitored by an organisation called SEPANSO (Société pour l'Étude et l'Aménagement de la Nature dans le Sud-Ouest), who manage the reserve. They also oversee the Banc d’Arguin at the mouth of Arcachon Bay, and the Réserve naturelle nationale des Marais de Bruges – the latter of which has long since deserved its own Invisible Bordeaux report.  

At Cousseau, to my surprise, a SEPANSO representative was present on the main viewing platform to answer questions, provide guidance and lend out two telescopes to partake in some serious birdwatching. He did point out though that a hot mid-afternoon in June was not optimal in terms of observing anything more interesting than the siege of herons huddling in a tree some way in the distance. Will plan things properly next time!


From there I climbed the steps of one of the reserve’s two tall observation towers, la Tour de Lesperon. In places, poetic notes written on fabric added a little mystique to the proceedings.

La Tour de Lesperon. A poem was written on the white fabric rectangle which moved with the wind.

From the top I felt ever so slightly like I was the king of Cousseau, and to properly crown the occasion I spotted a magnificent cow in the distance. Or was it a bull? A bison? A buffalo? It turns out it was actually a "vache marine" Whatever, this was now a bit like being on safari.

From that vantage point, along with the impressive natural beauty, what was most striking was how peaceful the place was, the silence disturbed only by the buzzing of insects. When I was there, there were just three other visitors, I bumped into two other people on my way out – it was certainly difficult to believe that the reserve reportedly draws between 25,000 and 30,000 visitors per year… The crowds certainly weren’t around on a Sunday afternoon in June.

Anyway, as far as I’m concerned, I will most definitely be paying a return visit before too long to be able to experience the reserve to the full. There is another observation tower to climb, and a full walking circuit to take in. In a way, this first, unplanned venture feels like it was little more than a rushed trailer ahead of the full feature unfolding.

So, dear Réserve naturelle nationale de l’étang de Cousseau, Invisible Bordeaux is very much looking forward to exploring your delights further sometime in the future… and preferably on a day when there are more birds to be seen! 

Update: I did make it back shortly afterwards and got to take in the fine view from the top of the second observation tower, Tour Galip. Hurrah!

> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Réserve naturelle nationale de l’étang de Cousseau, Lacanau. Cycling is the recommended means of reaching the reserve, but there is also a car park located more or less in the vicinity (codenamed 'Marmande" on the D6E1 départementale road to the north of Lacanau), but note that it's a fair old walk from there to the reserve proper.

> Réserves Naturelles de France website page

> SEPANSO website page 

> Ce dossier est également disponible en français !

0 commentaires:

  The small village of Puynormand - and its unusual claim to being the centre of the northern hemisphere - has twice featured on the Invisib...

Join Slowrush on their mission to the centre of the northern hemisphere (i.e. Puynormand)


The small village of Puynormand - and its unusual claim to being the centre of the northern hemisphere - has twice featured on the Invisible Bordeaux blog. It was only really a matter of time before the subject made its way into a song produced by my group Slowrush… and here it is, along with a spectacular video: we give you X Marks The Spot! 

X Marks The Spot, which is the lead track on the new Slowrush E.P., Navigation & Time, is the story of two of my trips to the spot where the Greenwich Meridian and the 45th Parallel North converge, i.e. the place where east meets west mid-way up the northern hemisphere.

While there is something very tongue-in-cheek about the track and the way the band appear to get quite excited about something that doesn’t physically exist, it is also a very affectionate nod in the direction of friend of the blog André Stanghellini and the work he has done to raise awareness of Puynormand’s unique status, resulting in a signpost and information panel going up in recent years. 

So join Slowrush as we embark on our mission to the centre of our hemisphere, and find out what it is like to perform a sax solo and enjoy drinks where these important invisible lines converge! 

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

> You can listen to the full Navigation & Time E.P. on the Slowrush Bandcamp page here, or on the streaming platform of your choice by clicking here. 

0 commentaires:

Every so often the hustle and bustle of central Bordeaux can get just a little bit overpowering, wouldn’t you say? When that happens there c...

Hanging gardens for all: introducing the green walls of Bordeaux

Every so often the hustle and bustle of central Bordeaux can get just a little bit overpowering, wouldn’t you say? When that happens there can surely be nothing more refreshing than taking in the delights of the city’s biggest green wall. We therefore give you Square Vinet… just a stone’s throw away from the perpetually buzzing Rue Sainte-Catherine and Place Camille-Jullian.

The tiny and quiet plane-tree-lined square, which runs between Rue du Cancéra and Rue Vinet, dates from the 1970s following on from the demolition of a row of run-down buildings. The turning point came in 2005 with the addition of its key selling point, namely the unusual – and really quite pretty – 100-metre-long (or 400-square-metre) green wall, as part of a substantial overhaul that cost €540,000. The work proved controversial at the time, but (if contemporary media coverage is to be believed) that was mainly because the old-school swings were replaced by more modern children’s activities! “Beau mais trop intello” (pretty but high-brow), headlined the local newspaper Sud Ouest!

Square Vinet in all its splendour.

But let’s get back to our green wall… then again, what exactly is a green wall? Well, Wikipedia notes that “A green wall is a vertical built structure intentionally covered by vegetation. Green walls include a vertically applied growth medium such as soil, substitute substrate, or hydroculture felt; as well as an integrated hydration and fertigation delivery system. They are also referred to as living walls or vertical gardens, and widely associated with the delivery of many beneficial ecosystem services.”

The Square Vinet green wall was initiated as part of a city-wide strategy regarding the planting of trees and vegetation led by landscape gardener Michel Desvignes. The actual conception of the wall was, according to the city’s website, “the fruit of the scientific research and artistic talent of the botanist Patrick Blanc (the man who also designed the green wall to be spotted at Paris’s Musée des Arts Premiers Quai Branly), all of which was no doubt enthusiastically rolled out by Bordeaux’s team of gardeners.

Some of the very green greenery to be spotted. 

The wall comprises a wide variety of plants whose “textures and colours are well-adapted to the fun environment of a children’s playground”. And yes, the square is still home to a small number of features (a small slide and unidentified things on springs) designed to keep the neighbourhood’s younger citizens occupied! What more could one ask for?

But even for child-free visitors the small square makes for a refreshing discovery, and the contrast between the Vinet green wall (Elie Vinet, by the way, was an eminent 16th-century Bordelais professor, historian and writer) and the limestone of the surrounding buildings is striking.

Wall to wall contrast.

Meanwhile, it might be noted that the Vinet green wall is not alone in the city, another can be enjoyed in the Mériadeck quarter, along the sides of the council meeting room of the Bordeaux Métropole building. Here, the added bonus is the surrounding fishpond and abstract bronze sculpture produced by François Cante-Pacos (and yes, there are even some lovely goldfish to be spotted!). 

The hanging gardens of Bordeaux Métropole's salle du conseil. Check out the goldfish (bottom right)! 

There have also been less successful green wall ventures in Bordeaux, notably on Cours de la Martinique where a residential building sported short-lived greenery that ran across the balconies of each apartment, once again to the designs of Patrick Blanc. Upkeep and maintenance proved difficult, and the water drainage system was ineffective; during cold spells this resulted in frost-related damage to the balconies and dangerously icy pavements at ground level. In 2012, just five years after being installed, the Cours de la Martinique’s hanging gardens were therefore already making headlines for all the wrong reasons in Sud Ouest. A few years on, the building’s balconies are now ominously smooth and free of plants!   

> Find them on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Square Vinet and Bordeaux Métropole building and green wall, Bordeaux.
> Ce dossier est également disponible en français. 
> Big thanks to Mathias Cisnal (author of Mériadeck - Parcours en ville) for his useful clarifications regarding the Mériadeck green wall! 

0 commentaires:

I’m no longer sure how this occurred, but I somehow came across a 2019 social media post announcing the installation of some new and highly ...

Introducing the (very unusual) public bookcases of Eysines

I’m no longer sure how this occurred, but I somehow came across a 2019 social media post announcing the installation of some new and highly unusual public bookcases (or "boîtes à livres") in various locations around the pleasant town of Eysines, as handily detailed on a map available on the municipality’s website. What makes most of the Eysines bookcases unusual is that rather than simply being angular wooden structures, each unique design reflects the surrounding area and was lovingly hand-crafted by members of the municipal technical teams. Needless to say, this clearly demanded a low-key Sunday morning cycling roadtrip!  

Of course, the basic premise of public bookcases is straightforward: come along, browse a little, ideally deposit a book and, in return, take one home with you. For the purposes of this project I adapted that rule to my roadtrip format, initially contributing a book to the Eysines collection, and then at each bookcase selecting one that I would leave at my next stop, forming a bit of a input/output book chain. To begin the process, the book I dropped off at the first public bookcase was the very Invisible Bordeaux-friendly Grandir à Bordeaux dans les Années 1940 et 1950 by Véronique Cardinal. What publication would I be taking home ten stops along the line?

My first public bookcase was in the shape of a vintage "Eysines Bourg" tram, positioned here just slightly ahead of the neighbouring tram line D "Eysines Centre" stop entering into service. The bookcase was in good condition and offered a fair selection of books. This was also my first experience of the accomplished handiwork of Eysines’ municipal staff: I realized the hinges of the doors contained a strong spring mechanism so that when released the doors would automatically close upon themselves. Neat and clever. I swapped my Véronique Cardinal book for some classic literature that would take me back to my university years: Balzac’s Le Père Goriot

Stop number two was in the leafy Bois du Derby, the name of which may or may not be a reference to the nearby horse-racing track. In the shape of a colourful tree, the bookcase comprises two little houses to store books, one at adult height and the other at child height.

The latter was ominously empty… and the springy doors were no more. For some reason this triggered my inner politician and Le Père Goriot was replaced by Anna Cabana’s Un Fantasme Nommé Juppé.

The third boîte à livres was a little more difficult to track down, situated within the confines of a residential set of buildings (Résidence les Cottages), by the side of a children’s play area and a small-scale football pitch. 

Despite a hand-written notice requesting some communal goodwill, this bookcase was clearly in need of some tender loving care… and was conspicuously empty save for a weather-beaten children’s picture book. I opted to leave things as they were. 

Then it was on to Place Florale which, on a Sunday morning, is a hive of activity because… it’s market day! Hurrah! So I was met with crowds of people stocking up on various foodstuffs at what is known as Marché de Migron, with the smell of roast chicken in the air and all soundtracked by an amplified busker singing old Bob Dylan tunes in approximate English. The Place Florale public bookcase is a delightful beast (although it too is short of its protective doors), in the shape of an old Citroën utility van. Is this a reference to a specific Citroën van or does it simply hint at the market sellers who set up their stalls here every weekend? 

Certainly, the day I was there, there were obvious parallels with the camper van parked alongside selling tomato plants! Stopping here also served as my first chance to see a remarkable new piece of public art, a bronze sculpture by Ibai Hernandorena depicting three disabled local youths. The piece entitled "Jéremy, Germain et Olivier" and which you can read about by clicking here, possibly deserves its own Invisible Bordeaux article! I set off, now with John Gray’s Mars et Vénus Sous la Couette safely lodged in my bag. 

I was now heading to le Bois Gramond, which is a pleasant area of greenery tucked in among residential streets and flanked to the north-west by the Rocade ringroad. From what I could make out during my short stay, the park is a bit of a joggers’ and dog-walkers’ paradise. It also features arguably the most ambitious of Eysines’ public bookcases: a walk-in hut with well-stocked bookshelves on all sides and an invitation to enjoy the setting at all times of year, with each side of the hut recalling one of the four seasons.

Porthole windows on the outside world complete the picture. It really is most excellent. I swapped my sex therapy self-help book for Denis Guedj’s Le Théorème du Perroquet, simply because I liked the title and the cover.

Next up was a zebra-themed bookcase which, like its les Cottages counterpart, was a touch more difficult to find, hidden away in amongst the packed car parks of the Grand Louis residential complex. Once again I chose to travel back in time to my student years, opting for Sartre’s Huis Clos.   

There were barely 400 or 500 metres to cover before reaching the next public bookcase, simply described on the map as being "à côté des écoles". It was actually fairly easy to locate. Its design was possibly not the most exciting but it did come with its own unexpected bonus: an unobstructed view of local baseball team les Raiders in competitive action.  

After being momentarily taken down to the ballgame I concentrated on my next item of reading material: Sept Années Perdues by George Bellairs.

I was now headed to "la Maison Guy Queyroi", which appears to be some kind of modern multi-purpose building with meeting rooms for local associations and the like. Its public bookcase, which is to be found outdoors but sheltered from the elements, is very much a conventional design, but what it lacks in originality it more than makes up for in terms of supply. This is clearly a hotspot of lending/borrowing and it was quite literally overflowing with books to choose from. I opted for some user-friendly espionage with a saucy cover: Serge Laforest’s À Bout de Patience.

Moving on, I could very easily have completely missed the entrance to my next destination, the Parc du Limancet. Cycling past the first time, the metal gate appeared not just closed but locked. It was only doubling back that I noticed there happily was a legitimate way of creeping around the gate and into this pleasant woodland area. Once in I was afraid it might be difficult to locate the bookcase but I soon spotted it, alongside a large barn. It didn’t need a character from a Serge Laforest spy novel to spot the similarity between the two, the bookcase is basically a tiny version of its functional neighbour!

The books on display were a little disappointing, I eventually chose to go for a solidly-reliable, crowd-pleasing steamy tale from the Harlequin "Série Tentation" collection of books: Lee Magner’s Vos Désirs Sont des Ordres.       

My final stop was now in sight, by the children’s play area in the wide open spaces of the Domaine du Pinsan… which has already made an appearance on the blog in one of my occasional articles about air disasters. There’s very much a child-friendly feel about the colourful design of this tenth bookcase, which features big, expressive eyes (bizarrely topped off by eyelashes that are actually positioned above the character’s eyebrows), and two sets of sharp teeth framing the two shelves of books. The bookcase seems angry, or hungry, or possibly both.  

Once again, the choice of books available wasn’t brilliant but in the ended I opted for Michel Déon’s Un Taxi Mauve, a 1973 novel set in Ireland which was later turned into a movie directed by Yves Boisset. This is the book I would be taking home!

The Eysines public bookcase roadtrip was now over, but what a rollercoaster ride it had been (well, admittedly, we’re talking quite a gentle, low-speed, low-thrills literary rollercoaster here). But mission accomplished, or what? Some of the bookcase designs really are fantastic: the tram- and van-shaped bookcases absolutely have to be seen, and the four seasons reading hut in the Bois Gramond is a genuine delight. Meanwhile, others could certainly do with a bit of a makeover (Résidence les Cottages, we’re looking at you!). And, of course, an itinerary like this is also about the other things you get to see en route: taking in a Sunday-morning market, viewing the remarkable Ibai Hernandorena sculpture on Place Florale, watching some real, live baseball, and then discovering the little-known Parc du Limancet… these are all things that came about simply because I was out hunting for some handmade bookcases.

Therefore, to the good people of Eysines (and beyond), do head out and make the most of these unusual sights, and hats off to the municipal teams who designed and manufactured the public bookcases, they really are unique and quite brilliant. Bravo!

0 commentaires: