La Belle au bois au dormant se réveille
A little while back I decided to go on and explore more of France than just Paris. Only visiting Paris and claim to know France is similar to going to New York and claim to have experienced the US. It is a cosmopolitan centre far away from the rest of the country and closer connected to other similar centres.
Thus, as much as Paris is France, and as much as Parisians in many ways are culturally a part of the baguette-eating and cheek-kissing French, they are also Parisians, homos cosmopolis. Therefore, it has been my plan to discover a bit of France without the ‘bobo’ atmosphere of Paris.
So, here I am, in Bordeaux, exploring France beyond the perimeters of île-de-France.
Bordeaux is an old beauty dating back to 300 BC. For many years, the bordelaises called her La Belle au bois dormant, Sleeping Beauty, because she was hidden beneath dark stone façades, shying away from showing off her beautiful architecture. But those days are long gone. One might say that the prince on the white horse has arrived awakening our sleeping beauty.
The prince was Alain Juppé who became major of Bordeaux in 1995, whereafter he initiated a huge process of renovating the centre ville, including the re-introduction of tramways.
It is in large parts thanks to him that the limestone houses of the inner parts of the city no longer look dark and weary. Due to local conditions in weather and climate, the local limestones used to build most of Bordeaux are highly sensitive and turn dark grey and even black over short periods of time.
However, much has been done since Juppé took up office in order to awaken Sleeping Beauty. Another crucial development has been the restructuring of the embankments of La Garonne embankments.
My own favourite modernisation of Bordeaux is Place de la Bourse and Le Miroir d’Eau.
Thus, Bordeaux is very much worth a visit, even for those who don’t drink wine. Including me…
Bordeaux et moi
I arrived with the TGV on Wednesday night. It was my first time on a TGV, as far as I can remember and I was a bit exited about how fast it would go. However, most of the three hours I spent hiding my nose in my scarf, trying to avoid the foul breath of the guy next to me.
In Bordeaux, I had made arrangements with Guillaume, a French couch surfer, to stay with him for the first two nights. As always, couch surfing was quite the pleasure, and I came to know quite a bit about the life of a book translator as well as the French fantasy game Dark Earth.
Guillaume who is an extremely interesting guy with a colossal amount of technological devices in his apartment was for the most time busy finishing the French translation of a light hearted fantasy book. However, he was a very attentive host, and, though stressed by a deadline, he managed to both show me parts of the centre, have lengthy conversations about life and explain how he came up with the idea for Dark Earth .
All of Thursday, I walked around Bordeaux following the walking tours of a French guide book which Guillaume had lent me. It let me through small and, by tourists, unnoticed streets pointing out this and that house or decorative façade.
As always, I took immense amounts of pictures. Bordeaux is a dream city in that regard, with countless details and figurines on the stone façades – even more so than Paris.
However, at Rue Entre-Deux-Murs, I was approached by two women sitting in the shadow outside a house. They were pleasant looking, middle-aged women in latex skirts and high heels. Providers of one of the eldest services in the world.
One of the women politely asked me to delete any pictures I might have taken of them. As I deleted two pictures under the women’s supervision they kindly explained that I was welcome to take pictures of the street and the houses around, and that they would gladly get out of the way. However, having families and children they didn’t want their pictures to end on the internet.
I’ve had run-ins with filles jolies before, one time I even got chased down a street by three transvestites in Istanbul, but it is the first time I’ve met any acting so polite and gracefully.
The following days, I went to check out Bergerac, which is a town 2 hours east of Bordeaux by train. See Bergerac Has More Than a Big Nose.
Returning to Bordeaux, I am staying with Aurore, another couch surfer, and her flatmates. In the centre of Bordeaux, in between the mummies of Saint-Michel and the grocery and meat shopping locals at Marché des Capucins, I am staying in an old and partly functioning apartment full of life and laughter.
It is always great to return to a city. Exiting the train station and knowing which way to go is so comforting. It brings a feeling of peace and makes you feel a tiny bit closer to the place that you are visiting.
These last couple of days have been more relaxation than sightseeing. Yesterday, I joined Aurore and her friends at a local wine bar. Though not normally a wine-lover, I figured that it would be sacrilege to come to Bordeaux and not taste the wine. So, I did. And four glasses later my French was almost fluent.
In truth, Aurore and her friends have been extremely good at getting me to speak French, and my confidence has increased slightly after lengthy conversations about Greek economy, French culture and the always popular ‘I know what you did last night’-topic.
Moreover, I have gained a small arsenal of slang words and expressions as well as learned to use gavé instead of trés as real Bordelaise do. I was quite the object of fascination when I managed to get the word into a normal conversation all casually claiming something to be gavé original or gavé bien.
Though I have spent much more money than I should have, I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in Bordeaux, exploring the secret corners of the Awakened Beauty, and I wouldn’t mind returning one day, discovering more of Arquitaine.