Wednesday, February 20, 2013


*Also known as décrottoirs (mud scrapers), grate-pieds (foot scratchers) and grattoirs (scratching utensils).

No matter what you call them, these now-quaint architectural elements were once a necessary part of daily life. On our first visit here, it wasn’t long before I noticed that there was a boot scraper beside the front door of every house and most public buildings. Even the churches have them. So for two weeks I  crouched on the sidewalk, looking like a fool, and photographed dozens of these overlooked ornaments, while Bruce gazed at the sky and acted like we weren’t actually together. Since we've moved here, there's not a week that goes by that I don't find another beauty to add to my collection.

I find them fascinating, in part because the variety of shapes and styles seem nearly endless. But more importantly, the widespread use of these little wrought iron do-hickeys says so much about living conditions when streets were unpaved, sidewalks didn’t exist, and horses were the primary means of transportation. In 1866 a journalist for La Petit Gironde wrote that, when it rained, the hard-packed dirt streets of Bordeaux instantly turned into rivers of mud. Many roads become completely impassable and others were transformed into cesspools of household waste.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Palais Gallien - Bordeaux's Roman ruin

One of the best things about Bordeaux? I have my very own Roman ruin. Well no, it’s not really mine; the city hasn't awarded it to me for having the best new Bordeaux blog (though I'm sure their recognition will come in time). But it sure seems like mine alone.  It's only a five-minute walk from our apartment, so I can drop by anytime. And because it’s tucked into a residential area no one’s ever around when I visit, except for maybe two old gals, sunning themselves and catching up on the gossip.   There's not much left to look at, just a few crumbling masonry arcades and what was obviously a grand entrance.  And even though it's called Palais Gallien it was never a palace and had no connection with anyone named Gallien. 

The remnants of Palais Gallien in 2012
In the 2nd century Burdigala (as Bordeaux was then called) was the capital of the Aquitaine region. Because of the local wine trade Burdigala was one of the richest cities in Roman Gaul, embellished with bathes, temples, aqueducts and porticoes that “emerged from the swamps like islands in the sea.” Located in the farthest corner of the city was the enormous amphitheater that would later come to be known as "Palais Gallien."

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

World War II Submarine Base, Bordeaux

And now for something completely different…

Base Sous-Marine, Bordeaux

I’ve always been interested in World War II. No, not the generals and the battles – I think that’s pretty dry stuff. It’s the personal histories and individual acts of heroism that keep me spellbound. But despite seeing dozens of movies and reading countless books, the war years remained slightly intangible. It was always something that had happened “over there.”  I suspect that even during the war the news from Europe must have seemed pretty unreal to most Americans.  My mother lived through those years in Crystal Springs, Mississippi, and her family, although inconvenienced by rationing, remained largely untouched by the conflict. As a young teenage girl her wartime memories involve flirting with soldiers, not death.