Posted by Lisa Hill on October 9, 2010
Sometimes it’s hard not to get cross and sulky in France, for once again we were cursed by their predilection for industrial action. (On our first trip to Paris in 2001, all the public museums i.e. the Louvre & the Museé D’Orsay were on strike for the entire week we were there.) Now, in 2010, the World Bank has decreed budget cuts throughout Europe so that deficit budgets caused by the global financial crisis can be set straight, and in France (as elsewhere) there are public sector strikes. Today, on our only day to explore Bordeaux by ourselves, we wasted most of our morning because of these strikes. Things began well. We spent a happy hour or so exploring their beautiful Cathedral Saint-André and then climbed all 231 steps to the top of their bell tower to enjoy a magnificent view over Bordeaux. It was a bit perilous coming back down (I did it backwards, hanging onto the thick rope that served as a stair rail) but it was worth it.
Next, I bought some truly horrible and very unflattering end-of-season light tops because the weather was hotter than my internet research had predicted. The women here are beautifully dressed in crisp white linen blouses but there were none to be had at the shopping centre we went into. My new tops are not destined to make it back to Australia and Tim is not allowed to take any photos of me wearing them.
We then set off for the Musee de Beaux Arts. But it was shut, and the abundant police who were lounging about in front of gates firmly closed were not responsive to queries about what was going on. There was nothing for it but to trek across the city to the tourist bureau for more information – and they knew nothing about it either until they had made some phone calls.
Apparently the museum needed to be protected from the demonstrators we had seen (and kept away from). They were across the square from the cathedral and seemed peaceable enough but we have seen violent French demonstrations on TV so perhaps the police had good reason. The Museé Aquitaine was open, however, because it was further away from potential trouble, and perhaps, said the pleasant young lady at the tourist bureau, the Musee de Beaux Arts might be open too, later on, when the demonstration was over?
So we moped around for a bit and had an indifferent lunch in a trendy brasserie called 5 and then braved the tram because we were tired of walking in the heat.
The Musee Aquitaine cheered us up in no time. It’s fantastic. Although some of the things on display were replicas and it was a bit hard to tell what was authentic because all the signage is in French (and my school French wasn’t adequate), it is a really rich collection of locally found artefacts from prehistoric times. It begins with the Neanderthals (because they came from around here) and there’s a fine collection of flint tools and even a skull. There are Neolithic tools arranged so that one can clearly see that magic moment in time when man learned how to cast tools with fastenings and clasps. Apes can use rocks as tools, and can even whittle them a bit to make them handier, but once part A can be joined cleverly to part B, there is real invention. The display also showed that these people were active in trade because there were shells and other items which were not local in origin.
There is also a replica of the Lascaux cave pictures, labelled ‘l’apogee de la peinture’ at 17,000 years ago, but of course these pictures – wonderful as they are – do not represent the beginning of painting at all. That distinction belongs to Aboriginal art which goes back 40,000 years or more, and it’s about time the French acknowledged that.
The Romans were here in Bordeaux too, of course, and there are the usual statues and bits of monuments. Mosaics, however, were not like the ones we saw in Roman Britain because they seemed to be made entirely in geometric patterns. So there were no charming little birds or animals or portraits of people in the designs, but there were some intriguing cabinets showing the tools and the little coloured pieces of stone that were used to make the mosaics. There were, however, some spectacularly good pieces of pottery and Samian ware – some of it so well-preserved it was hard to believe that they were originals and not reproductions. There was also a most impressive statue of Diana found in Dordogne, and a bronze statue of Hercules which was found in 20 pieces in 1832 and put back together again in time for some important Bordeaux exhibition in 1878.
From the Romans the displays then went on to the early Christian era. There were replica tombs of a splendid knight and (of course) Eleanor of Aquitaine, and many lovely remnants of medieval church sculpture too.
WiFi is intermittent here, so I shall upload this and come back to finish it off and add some pictures later if I can!