Travels with Tim and Lisa

"If my discoveries are other people's commonplaces I cannot help it – for me they retain a momentous freshness" (Elizabeth Bowen)

Bordeaux 7.10.10 (part 2)

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 12, 2010

This post belongs with the earlier post about Bordeaux, but somehow it got lost in cyberspace.  It will make sense if you read the previous post first, and it follows on with the rest of our visit to the Musee d’Aquitaine.

Until 1453 England ruled this part of France (because Eleanor of Aquitaine married Henry II) but it was unified with the rest of the country when the Hundred Years War ended so there were fleur de lys everywhere in the exhibits which followed. We were expecting to see exhibits about the French Revolution next but (unless we somehow missed a gallery) instead we found ourselves discovering Bordeaux’s past as a slave trading port. According to a timeline on display, the first attempt to end the trade came shortly after the Declaration of the Rights of Man in 1789 but it was brought back under Napoleon, and then abolished again in 1848, 15 years after Britain passed its Abolition Act in 1833. There were some sobering displays in this gallery including a diagram of a slave ship which showed how they packed the slaves in like sardines – no wonder they died in their hundreds at sea.

Yes, it's called 'Crocodile'

With renewed awareness of the incongruity of arts and culture in the context of an economy dependent on slavery, we set off for the Museé de Beaux Arts, but even though it was now open, it failed to live up to expectations. It’s billed as the best collection outside of Paris, but it’s actually quite small, only about as big as the Bendigo Art Gallery and not as interesting. There are some Dutch paintings that are rather good, but nothing really memorable, especially not after the masterpieces we’d seen in Dublin. What was splendid was the Museé des Arts Decoratifs. This was full of gorgeous linen and embroidery and exquisite porcelain – and tired as we were we could not resist plodding up all three flights of stairs to see it all. There were also some gorgeous wallpapers and tapestries, and delicately carved pieces of furniture arranged in salons and dining rooms. There was also a small display of art nouveau and art deco pieces which – even though we love the art deco era – seemed rather clunky after the delicacy of the pieces from the 17th- – 19th century.

In the shop there were lovely reproductions I would have dearly loved to buy but I have tried posting things home from France before and never again – the first hurdle is finding the post office where staff are so unhelpful so you almost have to climb over the counter yourself to locate some packaging and then they are deliberately obtuse about selling the correct stamps. Not only is the whole procedure incredibly frustrating, time-consuming and expensive, the French postal service must be the slowest in the world because we had been back home in Australia for months before our parcel finally arrived. (The Brits make it really easy: all their public museums will pack and post to anywhere in the world. Hand over the credit card and your souvenirs will be on their way before you are back out on the street!)

We had a lovely dinner at Gravelier. It is said to be one of the best restaurants in Bordeaux, and the service and food is excellent. We had great fun trying to decipher some of the unfamiliar words on the menu (e.g. pavé de bar is a fillet of sea bass) but it was the sort of place where it didn’t really matter because you knew that whatever you chose would be divine and it was.

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4 Responses to “Bordeaux 7.10.10 (part 2)”

  1. That dinner looks lovely. I’m interested in your comment on the art deco looking clunky by comparison, because I like that era too. Oh well, we’ll just have to make sure we never put it near our 17th century pieces, won’t we!

    • Lisa Hill said

      It’s fascinating to be here in Bilbao, where (unlike Bordeaux) the old buildings mix happily with the new. I haven’t written my post about it yet, but there is something very attractive about the clean, sharp lines of modern architecture adjacent to the Baroque and the classical styles.
      Somehow, it works here, in a way that it doesn’t seem to in Melbourne. I like Federation Square, for example, but I think it looks awful adjacent to Flinders St Station, just as the station looks dreadful adjacent to St Paul’s Cathedral.
      Perhaps here in Bilbao it is just better modern architecture, perhaps they design it to somehow fit with the existing architecture using elements that soothe the eye?
      I wish someone would write a useful little guidebook, the size of a cigarette packet that explained the basics of architecture!

  2. Fay said

    Lisa, it was a pleasure to read about your trip to Bordeaux, especially after reading Waverly Root’s descriptions of the region’s food and wine. We subscribed to French tv when the children were learning the language, and we still watch it. Occasionally they will run a feature on regional food, architecture, or whatever, and those are some of the best shows.

    • Lisa Hill said

      The really nice thing about France is that there are so many regions to explore. We’ve only been to Boredeaux, the Loire Valley and Avignon so there is plenty left to see!

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