May 15, Bordeaux

My first full day in Bordeaux and with the group. And no more having to arrange for my own lodging and transportation. Tres bien! Breakfast is at the hotel, a buffet of various offerings far beyond the traditional croissant and coffee. I am training hotel staff to fill my huge mug with coffee and hot milk, and then I disappear for half an hour, to enjoy my coffee while checking my e-mail. For that first trip, there’s just a couple early-morning guys in the room; by the time I return for my real breakfast, most of the group is assembled. There. I shan’t mention breakfast again, except that I’ve found a source of Nutella packets for Jesse, and the white Normandy cheese is truly excellent.

We also had our first lecture today, on the history of Bordeaux, and it was very interesting. I veered close to “Stump the Docent” a couple times, but mostly kept quiet. Bordeaux has been a port forever, since pre-Roman times, and very wealthy because of it. It was also more tolerant, racially and religiously, because “There is just one religion in Bordeaux: trade.” But this is amazing! in the 1980s, the mayor up and had all the warehouses and port functions move up to the north end of town (Bordeaux is located on a bend of the Garonne River, and all the ships came up the river to the port,) so that none of the ships come into the heart of the town. He had all the old warehouses torn down, and new ones built north of town.  Then the entire newly-cleared river bank was given to the citizens of the town, and the people ride bikes, walk, play, and generally enjoy the scenery and open air. It’s rather like the bike path by the Willamette, without as many trees. What a radical change that must have been!  Another interesting thing is the reluctance of the Bordelaise, and perhaps all the French, to achieve catharsis by Talking About It. The horror and scandal of collaborators during WWII is still very fresh, and people are still fearful of their names being mentioned as cooperating with the Nazis, and no one admits to anything. The lecturer, Brigitte Benjamin, admitted to the same fears, and said that, finally, they were starting to talk about slavery, and Bordeaux’s part in the slave trade, 200 years after the end of the slave trade. So the issues of collaboration will probably be left for another generation.

We walked to lunch at Le Grand Cafe, and several of us made the mistake of ordering the beef, medium well. It was invariably quite rare, and almost inedible. Everything else was quite good. I looked forward to some yummy cheeses on my salad, and was not disappointed.

After lunch, Brigitte led us on a walking tour of Bordeaux. Lots of Bordeaux was rebuilt in the 18th and early 19th centuries in an elegant classical style. Many of the buildings, even the former bishop’s palace, are completely secular looking, with no religious ornamentation at all. We ended up at Cathedral St. Andre, another ancient cathedral subject to all sorts of remodeling, rennovation, shifting landscapes, shifting political climates, etc. I was especially fascinated by two tiny wall hangings called “Albatre”. They were made of alabaster, and were brought from Cornwall in the 14th Century, which must be a comment about the cosmopolitan nature of Bordeaux, if not Cornwall. Each depicts a religious scene, with a little visual joke–Mary, assumed into heaven, sends her belt down to Doubting Thomas, who can’t believe what happened to her.

Dinner was at a Basque restaurant, Le Chapeau Rouge. This time I chose the fish, and it was quite good. I’m afraid I’ve come to totally expect the totally-indulgent desserts provided after dinner–well, I paid for it, after all. Look for the photo of the little chocolate cake oozing molten chocolate. It was really hard to get a photo before digging in. My tour companions have gotten into the spirit of the photos, offering presentation suggestions, arranging the bread, providing props. They all asked what I was doing, and have decided it’s a good idea.

I took a little walk by the river after dinner, but it was getting dark, and cold, and it had been a very long day.

From my window, I can watch the family that lives on the top floor of the apartment across the street. They vacuum, move furniture, prepare meals, etc. It’s nice to know there’s someone with an ordinary life nearby. The breeze from my open window is lovely, but it also lets in noises–drunken idiots at 2 am, and, inexplicably, a garbage truck at 10 pm on a Saturday night. Go figure. I’m going back to sleep.

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