The View From Across La Manche #9 – From our own correspondent

Bordeaux, Biting Insects, and Bluegrass.

Place de la Comedie, Bordeaux

We’re going to start this month’s column with an apology. Not for us the way of the tabloids, to bury apologies in some long dusty corner, we screw up, we’re front and centre about it! Friends of mine here in France were quick to point out that I got my Bluegrass Festivals mixed up last time around. It turns out that Herbe Bleue and Bluegrass in La Roche are 2 separate festivals, with Herbe Bleue, the smaller of the two (by quite some margin, apparently), taking place in mid-August, near Angers, on the edge of the Loire Valley. Bluegrass in La Roche is held at the beginning of August in Haute Savoie, in France’s eastern Alps. Both are said to be outstanding festivals and hopefully, we’ll have more information about both festivals in the future. Sorry for any confusion and thanks to those that pointed out my error.

October has been quite a lively month for me here in France. I had a birthday at the start of the month, so we took ourselves off to Bordeaux for a few days. Bordeaux is a city that I’ve driven around a couple of times and flown over but never actually visited, so it was great to be in the heart of this beautiful city and experience the sights and sounds. Unfortunately, we also experienced the mosquitoes. The Garonne river runs through the city and is a substantial body of water, despite the heatwaves and lack of rain we’ve experienced this summer, and Bordeaux is rightly famous for the quality of its blood-sucking insects! Despite this, we had an excellent time and it’s a place I would recommend to anyone for a city break; there’s plenty going on and it really has some superb restaurants, but one place particularly caught our eyes and imagination and that was a place called the Darwin Eco-système, in the Bastide district on the city’s right bank.

Darwin Centre CafeHailed as “an unprecedented sociological experiment’ it is best described as a town square in a collaborative and sustainable alternative future! The collection of buildings were an old army barracks that has been taken over and re-imagined in a really dynamic and inspiring way. There’s a space for live events, a book shop, a restaurant and general store, a coffee house, and a few shops but all run on sustainability principles and all looking to repurpose and reuse wherever possible. Much of the produce in the general store comes from their own inner city farm, the restaurant is entirely furnished from recycled objects. Elsewhere there’s a Recyclery run by Emmaus, France’s principal poverty and homelessness charity, a sort of charity store on a grand scale, a skate park run at advantageous rates for the city’s younger population, and shared workspaces for those looking to mix a little entrepreneurship with their creativity. It’s a really fascinating place and we happily spent a few hours there just taking in the relaxed atmosphere and marveling at the many different aspects of the place. It has a terrific vibe and I’d urge anyone visiting the city to go along and check it out. If you’re interested you can read more about it here

We’ve started to notice that there’s a definite move towards a more sustainable way of life here in France, especially among the younger generations. We see a lot of it in our own village, where our bar/cafe and grocery store are run by a community association and staffed by volunteers. It will regularly offer things like a seed exchange, where you can come and collect seeds for fruits and vegetables to plant out in your vegetable gardens. If you can offer seeds of your own as a swap that’s great – but if you can’t you’re still welcome to take what you need. In fact, there’s a strong barter system building up in rural communities with people exchanging goods or offering time and services, rather than money, as a form of currency. France has always been a country where people work to live, rather than live to work, and it’s interesting to see communities developing that are looking at different ways to do things.

On the subject of different ways to do things; it’s been fascinating watching the political goings on in the UK from this side of  La Manche. It seems to be a case of ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ as the current government continues to unravel in a very public way. I’ve now lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked “what on earth is happening in the UK?!” People are genuinely shocked at how a country that they’ve always seen as stable and, perhaps, a little set in its ways, can suddenly go so crazy; and I’m not sure any of us have worked out how Liz Truss got to be Prime Minister, even if she will go down in history as the shortest serving holder of that particular title. Most of my French friends are very surprised that the government can still continue in this way and that a new general election hasn’t been called. I point out that the majority of my British friends feel much the same way. Apparently, Rishi Sunak is now the next PM and you have to wonder how long he can last. Look out Liz, Rishi’s coming for your crown!!

Thankfully, no matter how crazy our politics get, there’s always good music to take your mind off the problems! One of the very good things about our trip to Bordeaux was that I got to indulge in a bit of crate diving in a couple of vintage vinyl stores, something that always puts a smile on my face. Among the various little gems I unearthed was The Blasters’ 1983 album, ‘Non Fiction’, and Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers’ ‘Hard Promises’ from just two years earlier. So, here’s a track each from the two of them, ‘Jubilee Train’ from The Blasters’ album, though I’ve gone for a live performance from 1985’s Farm Aid and ‘Thing About You’ from “Hard Promises” though, again, a live version. Finally, since I started this column talking about Bluegrass music here in France, what better way to end it than with a track from French Bluegrass quartet, Dear John, and ‘Stranded Vessel’.

À bientôt.


About Rick Bayles 354 Articles
Now living the life of a political émigré in rural France and dreaming of the day I'll be able to sing those Cajun lyrics with an authentic accent!
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