As loyal readers know, Invisible Bordeaux has always been about getting beyond the classic postcard-friendly sights of the city to un...

New video: ten unusual sights in Bordeaux

As loyal readers know, Invisible Bordeaux has always been about getting beyond the classic postcard-friendly sights of the city to uncover some of the more unusual places and stories across Bordeaux. I thought there might be a video concept in there somewhere, so here it is: the Invisible Bordeaux guide to ten of the city's most surprising sights! 

Most, though not all, of the subjects have already been featured on the blog, and usually in greater depth than in this video. But before you go hunting for the related articles, sit back and let Youtube do all the hard work for the next three minutes!

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One of the things they don’t tell you about living in France is that when December comes round, the doorbell regularly rings and you com...

Learning about la Gironde from the 'Almanach du Facteur'


One of the things they don’t tell you about living in France is that when December comes round, the doorbell regularly rings and you come face-to-face with a waste collector, someone from the emergency services or the person who delivers your snail mail. You then hand over a few euros in exchange for a calendar – for they all sell calendars – so that they can buy themselves an end-of-year drink or two, and you can rest safe in the knowledge that if and when your house catches fire, you will be registered as one of the good people who bought a calendar and will receive priority treatment. 

While most calendars are simple two-sided affairs, La Poste's “almanach”, as sold by the facteur or factrice, is a bit more substantial, and provides quite a bit of useful information about the surrounding département. The practice of the postal services providing the annual document dates back to 1855 and the Musée de la Poste in Paris has more than 6,000 different editions stored in its archives. Today, around 15 million almanacs are produced each year and, it must be said, they are peculiar beasts. 

The July-December canine pinup,
the Continental Toy Spaniel.
Perusing a Gironde edition of the 2017 almanac, I’m trying to get to grips with the bizarre mix of benchmark national and international information, local content (facts, figures and maps), gardening tips, and the prominent pictures of dogs on each cover: the front features a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, while the back shows a Continental Toy Spaniel (or "Papillon", as pictured right). It might be noted that other covers with alternative animals, landscapes or urban scenes are also available; when the postman or woman comes to sell you the following year’s almanac, you are expected to take a few seconds to pick out the least ugly option available. 

Then comes a succession of random information, some of which is a good way of forgetting France is a secular country: the current year and the associated saints’ days appears twice, the following year’s list is also included, and in case you still can’t find the saint you’re looking for, there is also an alphabetical list of names and their associated feast days. There is a full list of wedding anniversary names, from cotton for one year, to oak for 80 years together. Similarly, there is a whole section about the language of flowers, i.e. what it really means when you offer someone a bouquet of lilacs (friendship) or rhododendrons (elegance).
Gardening tips, culture, saints and anniversaries. It's all a bit random.
But what I’ve really come looking for is the local information setting this Gironde edition apart from those available elsewhere in France. So here are a few things I learnt by reading the almanac: 

• There are 542 “communes” (municipalities) in Gironde which, for administrative/electoral purposes, are grouped into 33 cantons, which in turn form six arrondissements.
• Gironde’s six arrondissements are Arcachon, Blaye, Bordeaux, Langon, Lesparre-Médoc and Libourne.
• Gironde’s population currently stands at 1,505,517.

Just some of Gironde's 542 communes.
• The département covers a surface area of 10,000km². (That reads like a suspiciously round number though; Wikipedia has it down as 10,725km². Either way, Gironde is France’s biggest mainland département.)
• Bordeaux is Gironde’s most populous commune: 243,626 inhabitants.
• There are some seriously tiny municipalities. The five smallest are all located to the east of the département: Saint-Antoine-du-Queyrat (population: 74), Saint-Hilaire-du-Bois (73), Boussugan (53) and Castelmoron-d'Albret (52), while the winner is Lartigue (which just 46 people call home).
• In Castillon-la-Bataille, market day is every Monday (this information is included for every municipality).
High tides, low tides.
• Festivities are held in Margaux every year on the second Sunday in May (likewise, each municipality’s annual “fête” is listed).
• At the Pointe de Grave, i.e. the northern tip of the département, on November 1st of this year, look out for high tides at 02:45 and 15:00, while the tide will be at its lowest at 08:34 and 20:58. For, indeed, the full-year tide timetable is included; that information, compiled on the basis of data drawn up by SHOM (Service Hydrographique et Océanographique de la Marine) is genuinely useful. But while that is obviously tailored to a Girondin readership, the sunrise and sunset data on one of the next pages is for Paris.
• Of all the town maps that are included, the most surprising is possibly Sainte-Foy-la-Grande and its planned-town grid street system, which make it look more like a US city than a French town with a history that dates back to 1255.
• And finally, thinking back to the four corners road trip that took Invisible Bordeaux and Bordeaux 2066 to the northern, eastern, southern and western tips of la Gironde over the course of a day, it was a bit disheartening to see that there wasn’t quite enough room on the map of the full département for Saint-Avit-Saint-Nazaire, Gironde's easternmost point.

New York? San Francisco? No, it's Sainte-Foy-la-Grande and its downtown grid road system. And, to the right, proof that Saint-Avit-Saint-Nazaire is just a touch too far to the east to make it onto the map (technically it's there, but there's not enough room for the name and Gironde's easternmost point is not included).
So, a peculiar beast the almanac most definitely is. It does seem to be an eminently collectible publication but, judging by the prices of old editions being sold online, they’re not especially desirable. Will the Almanach du Facteur one day be a thing of the past? Well, I for one hope not because the world will surely always need calendars with photos of dogs.

> Ce dossier est également disponible en français !

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