It's been another interesting twelve months feeding the beast that is Invisible Bordeaux, with highlights including some memorable ev...
Farewell 2016: the year’s most-read Invisible Bordeaux items
Every day, thousands of vehicles drive along Quai de Paludate and past Château Descas, which is simultaneously one of the most spectacul...
Château Descas: the wine merchant’s warehouse turned nightclub... which is now an empty shell
Every day, thousands of vehicles drive along Quai de Paludate and past Château Descas, which is simultaneously one of the most spectacular and one of the most mysterious buildings in central Bordeaux. I thought it might be interesting to investigate the subject!
Although the central section of the building currently lies empty, it is best known as having been the eponymous offices and wine cellar of the wine merchants Descas, whose founder Jean Descas (1834-1895), an Entre-Deux-Mers wine barrel manufacturer turned trader (and also the mayor of his hometown Camiran), first installed his then 20-year-old company here in 1881. The location was strategically close to Saint-Jean train station, giving him easy access to the burgeoning railway delivery network, and thus an extra edge over his counterparts who were traditionally positioned further north in the Chartrons district. This decision was also compounded by Descas’s focus on supplying affordable wine to customers in France, while the Chartrons players built their wealth on the high-end export market.
The property acquired at an auction by Jean Descas had, since 1661, been home to the city’s first general hospital, Hôpital de la Manufacture, the ancestor of today’s “CHU” (Centre Hospitalier Universitaire). For many years the establishment also provided a safe haven for abandoned children, with a peak of just under 900 being accommodated around the time of the French Revolution in 1789.
|The way it was: Hôpital de la Manufacture in an 1830 portrayal by the lithographer Légé; picture borrowed from http://bordeauxmaritime.free.fr, the website which was expertly curated by the late, great Hervé Guichoux.|
|Plenty to spot, from the lookout tower to Jean Descas's initials, and the face of a man who appears to be surrounded by a full year's supply of grapes.|
The company and its château warehouse continued to go from strength to strength for the best part of a century, until they were taken over by the Merlaut family in 1979. Descas’s assets were relocated to the right bank of the Garonne and a modern-day warehouse just off Quai de Brazza. This remains Descas’s head office and is where its director Denis Merlaut monitors the group’s many contemporary business interests, which range from wine production and trading to the ownership and rental of business units.
|Mercury and Vine.|
Then the château was turned into a short-lived disco known as le Rikiki Palace, which hosted DJs including Bob Sinclair. The following, final nocturnal incarnation was le Mystic, a “restaurant-club” described by observers as a “haunted venue” where little people manned the door and, even more bizarrely, a gigantic animated mask served as master of ceremonies. Business ceased in 2007.
And, ever since then, an ugly legal battle has been underway between Descas and Bordeaux city council over unauthorised structural work carried out inside the building (which included the complete gutting and removal of the third floor), as noted when the municipality’s lease expired in 2003. Descas are claiming damages of 6 million euros to get the premises back into shape, although the ongoing legal efforts have been undermined by the use of the building beyond 2003 to house Rikiki Palace and le Mystic.
Which brings us to the present day’s empty shell, albeit one which is flanked by two wings which are occupied by various companies, associations and even a bar, le Point Rouge, not to mention the swish old people’s residence which has gone up behind the château, sandwiching what GoogleEarth would suggest is a pleasantly symmetrical garden/square.
|The current view from GoogleEarth. The next time I go back I'll try heading round the back via rue... Jean Descas!|
|This aerial view from sometime between 1950 and 1965, as featured on the fantastic http://remonterletemps.ign.fr website, clearly shows the extensive warehouses behind the château.|
|Ground-floor trompe-l'oeils: Ceci n'est pas une fenêtre. Et ceci n'est plus un restaurant club.|
|A naughty look at the inside view where work appears to be in progress in between the marble columns.|
> Ce dossier est également disponible en français !
One sight which is visible from most points along the waterfront in central Bordeaux is the Bouliac radio mast, the tallest man-made st...
Pylône de Bouliac: the vertical line on Bordeaux’s horizon
The mast goes by a number of names according to where you look: antenne TDF (which originally stood for TéléDiffusion de France), pylône TDF or pylône de Bouliac. You might think that one thing that cannot be disputed is its height, but even that information differs in places! Most sources record it as measuring 252 metres, some round it down to 250 metres while others downgrade it to a lowly 232 metres. Whichever figure it might be, if you can picture the Eiffel Tower, the Bouliac mast tops out at the equivalent of a bit above mid-way between the second and third platforms.
|This is kind of how things would look if the Bouliac mast was in central Paris. |
(Eiffel Tower picture source: Wikipedia.)
The mast was first installed in 1957 and was soon ranked as one of TDF’s seven main transmission masts; illustrious counterparts on that list include the aforementioned Eiffel Tower and the Pic du Midi in the Pyrenees. The pylon was replaced in 1988 but, that short overhaul period aside, the antenna has been a permanent fixture on the Bordeaux skyline for almost 60 years. Around 1 million people are served by the signals it emits, either directly or via one of six relay antennae that are strategically positioned throughout Gironde (Arcachon, Bordeaux Caudéran, Langoiran-Portets, Latresne, Lesparre and Soulac).
|Close-up views of parts of the mast including the tip and the base.|
Anyway, as you gaze upstream along the Garonne river taking in the waterfront, the Miroir d'Eau, the buildings and the bridges, do not forget to gaze upwards towards Bouliac, the balcony of Bordeaux and the TDF mast!
|Yes, that's our pylon over there on the left, beyond the Miroir d'Eau and the Pont de Pierre.|
> Clicking here will take you through to Wikipedia's guide to the tallest structures in France
> Cet article est également disponible en français !
Congratulations Charlotte Grandjean, who is the winner of the competition which ran on social media to celebrate Invisible Bordeaux'...
#InvBdx5, the fifth anniversary competition: and the winner is...
Charlotte, a Dane living in Marseille who took part in the competition on Facebook, wins two nights’ bed and breakfast accommodation for two people at Novotel Bordeaux Lac, along with two 2-day Bordeaux Metropole CityPass tickets, offering unlimited travel on public transport and reduced rates for guided tours and admission to museums.
A few weeks ago, reader Conchi shared a link on her Facebook page which led to the Institut National de l'Audiovisuel 's websit...
New video: 'Welcome Arthur', the 2016 remake
A few weeks ago, reader Conchi shared a link on her Facebook page which led to the Institut National de l'Audiovisuel's website and a delightful if somewhat bizarre short film entitled "Welcome Arthur".
In the days that followed the recent publication of a piece about the Alhambra concert hall , I was struck by the number of stories share...
Philippe Serra's Alhambra scrapbook
Many of the tales I read were recounted by Philippe Serra (pictured left), one of the contributors to a benchmark book about the local music scene, Denis Fouquet's "Bordeaux Rock(s)". For Invisible Bordeaux, Philippe kindly agreed to talk us through some of the events he attended at this iconic venue, in some cases drawing on his draft memoirs of the 1962-1972 period. Here then are a number of snapshots that will take us back through time, but in each case the backdrop remains the same: we give you the Alhambra.
October 1963: Gene Vincent
"I attended this concert more out of curiosity than because I was familiar with the artist. It turned out to be a pleasant surprise. He may have limped but he was full of energy, clad in leather yet demonstrating heightened sensitivity, he boasted a distinctive and yet almost inexplicable stage presence. At the time we hadn't begun to regularly use the word "charisma", but that is certainly what it was. In my post-war childhood years I had admired Line Renaud before becoming a jazz enthusiast, and I hadn't exactly been drawn to rock'n'roll. By the time I left the Alhambra that night, I had become a rock'n'roll convert, although my faith was still very fragile!"
|Chuck Berry, hooked up to his 30-watt Vox amp. |
(Picture courtesy of Christian Perez)
"This was an unmissable event! Memphis Slim, Ronnie Bird, Antoine and Chuck Berry. I was astonished by the latter's energy combined with his notable economy of means: Berry's red Gibson guitar was plugged into a small 30-watt Vox amplifier that wasn't even fed through the house PA. Then again, the Alhambra PA was probably no more powerful than Chuck's Vox amp! Rock concerts still retained a music hall format at the time, with a support bill comprising a host of artists. You would sometimes even see tightrope walkers! If my memory serves me well, the Chuck Berry show opened with a performance by a foot juggler…"
November 1967: Pierre Henry
"Pierre Henry was like some kind of DJ beamed in from the next century, setting up his tape players, mixing desks, amplifiers and what seemed like generators, inside a boxing ring positioned in the middle of the Alhambra's Casino hall. His attitude was unpretentious and down-to-earth, even though he was piecing together an other-worldly concert. Sound was fed through ten separate channels into groups of speakers that formed a sort of magic circle surrounding listeners lying on mattresses. I was there ahead of the event and helped out as best I could with the final fine-tuning, which involved hanging huge sheets from the ceiling down to the floor at strategic points, so as to improve the acoustics of the cube-shaped venue. On the night of the performance, no doubt distracted by the large crowd of excitable youths, I barely noticed that the whole set-up had been shifted into the Alhambra's other hall! Despite its oblong shape, the permanent stage and the balcony which ran around the three other sides, it turns out that the theatre was a better match for the perfect sound which was sought than the ballroom where we had put all our efforts into setting things up.
November 1967: Living Theatre's Frankenstein
"This was the bravura piece of the outrageous Living Theatre company. They made use of a huge amount of scaffolding which no doubt accounted for much of the ten tons of equipment that their leader Julian Beck spoke of in interviews about the show. This new interpretation of Mary Shelley's classic tale was ideally designed to provide its receptive audience with an unforgettable experience by unparalleled theatrical performers."
November 1969 > Soft Machine
"The Alhambra was almost an embryonic multiplex with its hall, its bar, its lobbies and its two main venues: on one side there was the casino which, other than its small stage featured nothing but a dancefloor; while to the other side was the concert and theatre hall. The large door which separated the two was almost always closed. On this occasion it was open, enabling the public to mill between the two venues to enjoy the "Guinch Experiment" that formed part of the Sigma 5 arts festival. Music-wise, two groups were on the bill: Soft Machine and the Ronnie Scott Band. The use of the twin stages meant the bands could perform simultaneously. The stalls had been removed from the theatre and in the middle of the venue there was a massive inflatable installation that had been conceived by the visual artist Jeffrey Shaw. But I didn't get to see much of the band there as I only had eyes for Soft Machine, who were performing next door. The floor of that venue was entirely covered with balloons and, incredibly, mid-way through the performance, an elephant suddenly appeared; its sole task appeared to be that of going about bursting the balloons! You can imagine the chaos that ensued! Of course, I might not have been quite so surprised at this turn of events had I seen the elephant (on loan from a travelling circus) promoting the unforgettable show in the streets of Bordeaux that afternoon. My most vivid memory of the concert is an intense 20-minute drum solo by a bare-chested Robert Wyatt, who had been given completely free musical rein by his bandmates.
|Left: the Ronnie Scott Band with large inflatable contraption (Sigma archives). Right: Robert Wyatt mid-solo (photo: Anne Lafosse).|
November 1979 > The Stranglers
"This was a couple of years before the release of Golden Brown, but there was already a sense that the Stranglers' punk sound was making way for a more tuneful approach. I listened carefully to this fine band and enjoyed them thoroughly, but I kept a particularly close eye on Jean-Jacques Burnel's legwork. This wasn't because he was the group's resident Frenchman but rather because he was the bassist, and I'd taken up that very instrument. Bordeaux musicians, whatever their level of proficiency, made a point of coming to the Alhambra which for long had been the perfect place to admire the greats, and perhaps to borrow, more or less consciously, new things from them in this permanently-evolving world of rock culture!"
|Concert ticket including|
the "quartet" reference.
(Philippe Serra collection)
"I appreciated the all-round versatility of the fine guitarist Larry Coryell, who was back in an acoustic period. I had even enjoyed him as a singer on the album The Real Great Escape, but the concert ticket had this date enigmatically billed as the "Larry Coryell quartet". As it turned out, alongside Larry there was another six-string virtuoso, Philip Catherine and even, I seem to recollect, a third guitarist, namely the impressive Paco de Lucía. It was an absolute delight! The Alhambra, in keeping with the Granada reference of its name, always knew how to spring surprises on its audiences!"
November 1981 > Indoor Life, Rita Mitsouko and Bernard Szajner
|Bernard Szajner and his laser harp. (Source/photographer unknown)|
|Cover of the tour programme. |
(Philippe Serra collection)
"This fashionable record label offered a great lineup of artists on a tour that went by the name of "Some of the interesting things you'll see on a long-distance flight". It included Tuxedo Moon vocalist Winston Tong (from San Francisco), Manchester's The Durutti Column, Richard Jobson (London), Paul Haig (Edinburgh) and the Parisian band Antena. Of the bunch, the one I remember best is Durutti Column, which was essentially the project of a solo performer on guitar. This reminded me of an expression I'd often heard in my youth: "Every Englishman is an island". And I believe that it was, for the punter that I was, my final gig at the Alhambra. "
What is the connection between the 1968 summer Olympic Games in Mexico City and the Gironde towns of Braud-et-Saint-Louis, Cestas, Les...
Swimming in sunflowers: Gironde’s 'piscines Tournesol'
What is the connection between the 1968 summer Olympic Games in Mexico City and the Gironde towns of Braud-et-Saint-Louis, Cestas, Lesparre-Médoc and Saint-Médard-en-Jalles? The answer involves swimming… for we give you the remarkable “piscine Tournesol”!
The story goes that, at the 1968 Olympics, the performance of France’s swimmers was particularly disappointing. This resulted in a nationwide action plan that was launched the following year by the State secretary for Youth, Sport and Leisure to bring swimming to the masses. The plan, codenamed “1000 piscines”, provided a structure and support for the construction of affordable pools, which would in turn make swimming more easily accessible.
|The Tournesol pools in Braud-et-Saint-Louis (top) and Cestas.|
|Design and overall concept of the Tournesol pools, as featured on http://www.archi-wiki.org (contributor: Lionel Grandadam).|
|The rail system which enabled the switch from indoor to outdoor pool status. Pictures taken in Cestas.|
The Cestas pool is doing very well thank you. It is located on a large sports complex just off the A63 motorway, making for the pleasing sight of swimmers mingling with footballers, rugby players and tennis players. If you want to enjoy a swim there, admission will set you back just €1.60 euros. The Braud-et-Saint-Louis pool is also operational, although there is much talk about its fate and it may soon make way for a more ambitious “centre aquatique” offering smaller pools for toddlers, water-slides and the like.
|Scenes from Braud-et-Saint-Louis, including the reception area (top left), the prefabricated changing rooms (top right) and, bottom right, the outdoor foot bath located by the joint between the two moving panels.|
|Saint-Médard: the way it was (source: Saint-Médard-en-Jalles, au fil du temps) and the way it is today.|
|Lesparre: top right, the pool as it was (source: www.pss-archi.eu); main photo, demolition work in progress (source: www.sudouest.fr); bottom right, the scene today.|
|Laure Manaudou, pictured at the 2004 Olympics,|
praying that she would one day be featured in
an Invisible Bordeaux item (source: lemonde.fr).
- Find them on the Invisible Bordeaux map:
- Cestas Piscine Tournesol: Chemin de Canéjan, Cestas
- Braud-et-Saint-Louis Piscine Tournesol: 51 avenue de la République, Braud-et-Saint-Louis
- Lesparre-Médoc: 3 avenue du Docteur Benaben, Lesparre-Médoc
- St Médard: 116 avenue Anatole-France, Saint-Médard-en-Jalles
- Cet article est également disponible en français !
One of the more unusual outings on offer over this year’s European Heritage Days weekend was a guided tour of the PIC, or Plate-forme...
Inside Cestas’s PIC (Plate-forme industrielle du courrier)
One of the more unusual outings on offer over this year’s European Heritage Days weekend was a guided tour of the PIC, or Plate-forme industrielle du courrier, the massive postal sorting office that can be found in Cestas, just off the A63 motorway to the west of Bordeaux.
Over the past few weeks, you have possibly enjoyed the accounts of the joint Invisible Bordeaux/ Bordeaux 2066 roadtrip to the four cor...
New video: the extreme Gironde roadtrip!
Over the past few weeks, you have possibly enjoyed the accounts of the joint Invisible Bordeaux/Bordeaux 2066 roadtrip to the four corners of la Gironde: north, east, south and west.
The adventure is now also available as a scintillating Youtube video, so sit back, relax and follow us as we visit the remains of a brothel in Captieux, the wharf in La Salie, admire some boats in Le Verdon-sur-Mer, and study some trees in Saint-Avit-Saint-Nazaire. All you have to do is hit the play button and make sure your internet connection remains stable for the next eight minutes! Enjoy!
This is the third and final part of a travelogue following Bordeaux 2066 ’s Vincent and me on our quest to visit the extreme northern, ea...
The Gironde four corners road-trip > Part 3: west (La Salie and its wharf)
It was now 6:30pm and we had driven some 485 kilometres by the time we parked our car in the shade of the pines at la Salie Sud beach, on the Atlantic coast more or less mid-way between Arcachon and Biscarrosse. Venturing out onto the sandy pathway over the dunes to the sea we gained a little height and enjoyed our first view of La Salie’s distinctive – and controversial – landmark: “le Wharf”.
In the first part of this travelogue recounting an attempt to visit Gironde’s four cardinal points over the course of a single day, Bor...
The Gironde four corners road-trip > Part 2: south (Captieux and its former brothels)
In the first part of this travelogue recounting an attempt to visit Gironde’s four cardinal points over the course of a single day, Bordeaux 2066’s Vincent and I successfully conquered Le Verdon and its countless memorials, followed by Saint-Avit-Saint-Nazaire and its nothingness. From there we headed to the département’s southernmost point, Captieux.
We arrived in a part of Captieux known as “Le Poteau” at around 4pm, 380 kilometres on from our starting point. Looking south we were gazing into neighbouring département Les Landes. A large milestone was in position at the border between the two administrative areas although Vincent soon spotted an anomaly: beneath the painted inscription correctly identifying the road as being the D932 were traces of the milestone’s previous location on the Nationale 10. Isn’t it great to know that milestones don’t die, they’re just recycled and turn up elsewhere!
Loyal readers will remember past adventures in the company of Bordeaux2066 ’s Vincent Bart, which include travelling to the point in ...
The Gironde four corners road-trip > Part 1: north and east (Le Verdon and its memorials, and Saint-Avit-Saint-Nazaire and its trees)
Meeting up once again, the challenge we set ourselves this time was to set out on a day-long road-trip that would take us to the extreme northern, eastern, southern and western points of the Gironde (mainland France’s vastest département), secretly hoping that something interesting might happen somewhere along the way. To achieve this, we plotted our route and set out early on a Sunday morning from Saint-Aubin-de-Médoc, knowing full well that we were about to drive almost 600 kilometres together, i.e. the equivalent of travelling to Paris.
“Bordeaux Safari” is a distinctive yellow guidebook which can be spotted in bookshops in and around the city. Its publishers, Deux Degrés...
Visiting the city using Bordeaux Safari as my guide
Bordeaux Safari’s tagline is that it is “le guide dont vous êtes le héros”, in other words the reader is the central character and the book serves as an interactive roleplaying device that moves the aforementioned hero from point to point throughout Bordeaux, seeing and experiencing the different facets of the city. And so it was that early on a sunny Sunday morning, I set off on my bicycle without knowing where exactly I was headed.
The annual European heritage days take place on September 17th and 18th. Hurrah! As always, there are hundreds of options available, mak...
Journées du Patrimoine 2016: the Invisible Bordeaux selection!
The annual European heritage days take place on September 17th and 18th. Hurrah! As always, there are hundreds of options available, making it difficult to know where to start.
So, to make things easier for you, Invisible Bordeaux has once again been looking closely at what’s on offer and here is a small selection of some of the more unusual and eye-catching visits... although this year’s choices come with a twist: all of these activities lie outside Bordeaux. Meanwhile, the full list of venues and visits - in Bordeaux and beyond - can be found on the official event website.
During a recent family stay in Québec City, Canada, I was able to witness a little piece of Bordeaux history which is now on permanent di...
Fontaine de Tourny: a little piece of Bordeaux in Québec City
The fountain has already featured on the blog, as part of the investigation into the Léon Gambetta monument which was the centrepiece of the Allées de Tourny throughout much of the 20th century. At the time, the Allées were bookended by two ornate fountains which were first installed there in 1857. Just like the Gambetta monument, the fountains were removed during the 1960s overhaul of the esplanade (the main aim of which was to install an underground car park). As their upkeep was considered too costly, the fountains would never return.
A few weeks ago Invisible Bordeaux reported on the new spaceship which has been installed at the ovniport (UFO landing pad) in Arès , a...
A new UFO has landed at the Ovniport d'Arès, part 2: meeting the designers!
A friend of mine had spotted the previous Arès spaceship on the car park of trailer company Sud Ouest Remorques in Saint Jean-d’Illac. I stopped there to get the full story and found out that two employees, Luc Albingre and Thierry Rouzade, were behind the design and manufacture of the new spaceship. I arranged to meet Luc and Thierry to find out more, and this is what they told me:
Loyal readers will remember that, in 2012, Invisible Bordeaux reported on one of the most bizarre attractions in the area : the designa...
A new UFO has landed at the Ovniport d'Arès (part 1 of 2)
I was recently disconcerted to see that the flying saucer which had been positioned there had disappeared, but lately found out that in June of this year a brand new UFO had landed. In part 2 of this feature, I will be meeting the people who conceived and built the new spaceship (and no, they aren't aliens) and finding out what happened to the previous spaceship, but for now let's revisit the story behind the UFO landing pad.
People visiting Bordeaux recently have no doubt found their stay in the city has been made easier and more enjoyable thanks to Le Map, a...
The unfolding story of Le Map Bordeaux
People visiting Bordeaux recently have no doubt found their stay in the city has been made easier and more enjoyable thanks to Le Map, a new free city guide that combines maps with tips, useful information and even a bit of local history.
To find out more about the publication, I arranged to meet Matt Mann, one of Le Map’s creators, for a coffee and chocolatine (that’s a pain au chocolat for non-Bordelais readers). The full story goes something like this:
Rue d’Alzon is a small side-street off Rue Judaïque where one of Bordeaux’s most iconic music and entertainment venues once stood: l’...
L’Alhambra: the iconic Bordeaux venue which hosted some of the most iconic artists of the 20th century
The Alhambra story began in the early 1870s when a tree nursery made way for a permanent circus structure, le Cirque-National, which in turn became a “café-concert” in 1878. Soon after the turn of the century, local architect Tournier conceived a veritable entertainment complex that comprised a 1,500-seater theatre, an 800-capacity “summer casino” and, peculiarly, a rollerskating rink (the city’s 21st-century “roller parks” are therefore nothing new).
It is impossible to rewrite history but we can perpetually revise our understanding and interpretation of what happened in the past. A...
History evolves: how the Beaudésert internment camp memorial plaque has changed
It is impossible to rewrite history but we can perpetually revise our understanding and interpretation of what happened in the past. A notable example of this can be found on a plaque in Mérignac that marks the area where Beaudésert internment camp was once located.
Invisible Bordeaux published a full investigation into the WW2 camp back in 2013. Initially set up as a detention centre for “undesirable foreigners” in 1940, it evolved into a camp for political prisoners. It went on to hold other communities such as Jews, Spanish Republicans, members of the Résistance, black market traffickers and prostitutes, along with individuals who refused to comply with the Nazis’ forced labour policy (STO: Service du travail obligatoire). For many who were held there, it was a penultimate stop before being sent to concentration camps or ahead of execution at the nearby Camp de Souge.