Sunday morning was hot and stormy, but we took our usual long walk along the far bank of the Garonne – the wild side.
The municipality is gradually restoring the site by replanting trees. Not the old fruit trees, but it’s the thought that counts. The huge and impressive military barracks, disused for decades, has been restored to house a conference centre, media and communications studios, and other ecologically friendly businesses. The peace of the environment shouldn’t be too disturbed.
The contrast between the left and right banks of the Garonne is striking. On the left bank, the river is fronted by the elegant eighteenth century buildings of the Port de la Lune. On the right bank, we have trees, ducks, a few boatyards and the vestiges of activity associated with a long-since vanished orchards. All that remains are the old tram lines and railway tracks, and a cobbled road running between grassy fields and reclaimed wilderness.
Before we moved to Bordeaux we lived in a rural area, in a small medieval town surrounded by fields and forest. In the nine years we lived in the land that time forgot, we never met a single stray animal. When Jackson our beautiful, exasperating Siamese died we never thought of replacing him so we lived without pets. We had red squirrels in our garden, and fallow deer and wild boar would invade the gardens outside the ramparts.
In fact, with my hands full with five young children, pets was the last bead on my rosary. It was only when we moved into the centre of quite a large town, that the waifs and strays started to wander in.
The first was Raymond, a beautiful silver tabby, as svelt and elegant as a show cat.
On September 16th 2007 I heard a cat wailing outside. When I finally went to look, there he was, sitting in the middle of the street shouting for somebody to notice him. At the sound of the window opening, he jumped to his feet, long stripy tail held high and bounced straight into the house. Without waiting to be invited, he made for an armchair, curled up in it and went to sleep.
Raymond turned out to be a terrible bruiser and spent most of his time picking fights with the local wildlife. Each time I made an appointment with the vet to have him neutered, in the hope that the little operation would stop his gallop, he would mysteriously disappear for a few days.
On September 16th 2008, Raymond went off on patrol and never came back. It was two months before we admitted he wasn’t coming back. By that time, Trixie had taken up residence.
Trixie followed two of the children home from school. She was waiting for them (so they claimed) outside the mosque of all places. She trotted behind them across the main road, wagging her tail and shrieking. When I saw her I was sure she was pregnant. She turned out not to be. Just fat. She was four months old and already had a weight problem. She is noisy, has never been known to either purr or sit on anybody’s lap, and she lives to eat. But she’s a good cat, no trouble, as long as the flow of Friskies doesn’t dry up.
The next cat came from the cat shelter, adopted by our eldest daughter. She named him Moomin, I can’t imagine why. He is a beautiful animal, a Russian Blue, slender, sleek and silent.
Being used to very vocal cats, Moomin is an enigma. Jackson talked all the time, and Trixie has quite range of different noices, not all cat-like, that make us think she spent her formative months with a dog. That and the tail wagging. Raymond was always mouthing off at the neighbours, but Moomin is silent as the grave. Friendly enough, just not very communicative.
We didn’t intend to add to the list, but when they turn up on the doorstep there’s not much you can do, is there? A couple of months ago, we found a tiny scrap of thing crouched in a corner by the front door. I tried to turn a blind eye, hoping the people next door would find it. Of course it was only a matter of time before one of our children came in with a ‘Look what I found outside!”
She was miserably thin, full of vermin and worms. Her skin was flaking and her thin fur was coming off in clumps. The vet has patched all that up, but she can’t do anything about the brain damage. She has no sense of balance and falls over if you stroke her too hard. She’s fallen out of the window twice, and regularly rolls downstairs. When she walks she plods, and when she runs about, from the floor below you’d swear a horse was galloping overhead. And she’s afraid of nothing. When the dog jumps at her she just sits and stares at him, which gives him the willies.
The children have called her Nina, though I call her Funny Feet. She’s tiny and extremely affectionate, and purrs like a motor, and I don’t regret for one minute taking her in. I just keep my fingers crossed that the next heartless bastard among our neighbours who dumps his unwanted kittens in the street doesn’t do it in front of my door.
This morning, my youngest child decided to come with me on the morning dog walk. She brought the camera in case we saw the rabbit again. In addition to unwanted cats, dogs and ferrets, some callous soul has dumped an unwanted rabbit down by the river. These are her pics (she’s eleven), much better than mine.
All of our dog walks start off like this. The only dog in the world who HATES walkies.
One of the cats says goodbye.
The Pont de Pierre seen from the other side.
The Miroir d’Eau. Also known as Europe’s shallowest swimming pool.
This tourist attraction, designed to mirror the elegant buildings of the Place de la Bourse, has been taken over by the Bordelais as their favourite town centre picnic spot. By the afternoon it is a mass of wallowing babies with their parents, children in swimming costumes with buckets and spades, the odd dog, and rather sedate middle-aged residents in sun hats carrying their sandals.
Bordeaux has woken up out of its summer torpor and all of a sudden the streets are jammed with cars, the pavements with people. The demography rejuvenates by a generation as all the children and students who have been kept under wraps for two months surge out onto the streets with their bags, satchels, and pushchairs full of younger siblings. Most of them are dressed for the beach, because in Bordeaux, you pretend not to notice the rain, or the autumn chill. In January café terrasses are full as long as there is a ray of wintry sun.
I wonder this every September. Did everything really close down for the summer? Did nobody go to work at all, except the garçons in the cafés, and the playgroup monitors shepherding their flocks of small children? The central library closed for refurbishment, the perennial road works all round the neighbourhood shuddered to a halt, the police station went onto summer working hours (not many), the doctor’s surgery closed, the vet went on holiday. A few Mexicans snoozing beneath their sombreros on street corners wouldn’t have looked out of place.
The languid pace has speeded up though, and the atmosphere was positively feverish today, as if everybody was going back to school. Now that everybody wants to get past, the men in fluorescent jackets have come back to dig up the pavements again. The digger at the crossroads has swung back into action, blocking the traffic for streets around. The policemen, relaxed and smiling are strolling about in happy groups, showing off their tans. The city pulses to the rhythm of the academic year, rather than the seasons.
My town. It isn’t the town where I was born, or where I was brought up. Not the town where the children were born, or where I was married. It isn’t the most beautiful city in the world, or the sleepiest (I’ve lived in both). But it’s the town that has been home for the last six years. I have got to know it well, its good points and its bad, the beauty spots and the blots on the landscape.
This isn’t going to be a piece about how funny, arrogant, ridiculous, chauvinistic, sexy, lazy, unscrupulous, chaotic, and parochial the French are. I’ll leave that to writers who believe that this is an accurate description, or at least believe there’s money to be made pretending it is. This is just about the place I live.
Bordeaux is a small city, built in a graceful curve that hugs the Garonne. The river front is beautiful, and now that the old warehouses and wharves have been demolished, the Bordelais can appreciate what their town was actually meant to look like. It’s true the lively, industrious bustle of port activity is reduced now to those hideous floating hotels. Though in the summer we receive visits from the odd three masted sailing ship from Mexico, fishing trawlers from Russia, a German warship (not terribly reassuring that one) and various pleasure craft, barges and yachts from round the Atlantic coast.
Setting off home after the morning dog walk
The waterfront has had the old wharves removed and a bit of landscaping done. Not much, just a strip of grass, a few trees and a minimalist parapet that wouldn’t keep a geriatric poodle out of the wilderness of trees and shrubs of the riverbank.
Coypus’ and water rats’ paradise
Since the beginning of the year, several young people, mainly very much the worse for a night’s steady drinking in the clubs at the far end of the Port de la Lune, have been drowned in the Garonne. Whatever the reasons behind these tragic accidents (apart from the obvious) this summer the municipality decided to take preventive measures.
This is the preventive measure.
“I ask you! Even I know that.”
Geriatric poodles can no longer potter about in the bushes. My wild hunting hound can no longer splash through the water chasing voles. The tent people, midnight picnickers, fishermen and men wanting to take a leak, in short, human beings with hands, can unhook the barriers and throw themselves willy-nilly into the current. If they so wish. Apparently this summer, they have restrained themselves.
The daft thing is, the barriers, that run from the Pont Saint Jean, right the way along the picturesque river front, making a real blot on the landscape for about two kilometres, stop short where the nightclubs start. Young drunks have been free to carry on taking a wrong turn, and instead of ending up at the tram stop, finding themselves in the Garonne.