Bordeaux, City of the Young
It has been an incredible journey. Eight weeks of travel, planning, inquiry, and discovery. At times infuriatingly (and seemingly) complicated and at others, a terrifically fun time. We have met some very interesting people and have seen some incredible places. When we look back to the past weeks, it seems that time has passed slowly and that we could spend much more time here. But duty calls and we must return home.
But…..one last blast! In Bordeaux. One of the funny things that we realized when we got here was that eight weeks ago when we came to Bordeaux, we visited the area only a block or two away from where our last apartment would be. On Friday, for Cheryl’s birthday, we took a river dinner cruise and headed out to the mouth of the river Garonne. Upon returning, we took in the entire city. Lit up, it was quite a spectacle. Afterwards, we walked the promenade along the river to an open air venue where we joined a large crowd dancing to swing music. Strolling back to the apartment, we realized that we weren’t ready to return home. We could stay for a much longer time.
Bordeaux is France’s sixth largest city. It it the capital of the region of the the Aquitaine and the country’s largest wine producing area bottling more than a billion bottles of wine annually. It is bisected by the river Garonne and has more than 240,000 residents of which more than half in the city proper are under the age of thirty. Including the suburbs and outlying towns, the population exceeds 750,000. It is home to famous wine making labels such as Château Lafite Rothschild, Château Margaux, Château Latour, Château Haut-Brion, and Château Mouton Rothschild to name just a few.
The next day we decided that we wanted to spend the day seeing the city and so after a flavorful breakfast, we set out to see the rest of it. Bordeaux is modernizing and has recently built a brand-new electric tram system that covers the major parts of the city. A day pass allows you to use the tram and buses all day long for a small fee. After riding to the ends of the line in a few different directions to get a sense of the outlying areas of Bordeaux, we stopped in the public gardens to relax and enjoy a refreshing drink. It is interesting to note that in France whenever you order an alcoholic beverage, the menu, and often the glass in which it is served, indicate exactly the volume (in centiliters) of your drink. So, for example, when you order a glass of wine, you know in advance exactly how much you will receive and this makes it easy to decide if it is a good deal for the price. Beer is always served in a glass that has the exact label of the beer on it, and many times the coaster displays the brand of the beer as well. Prices for wine and beer are half to one-third the price they are in the States.
The days here have been mild with a slight breeze which is well appreciated as the breeze cools down the city. After dinner, we strolled out onto the quai by the river and back to the outdoor dance venue which this time was featuring salsa dancing! After dancing for a while, we strolled back toward our neighborhood. During our stay, what we have noticed the most is that where ever we have gone, there has been a mix of people of all ages. Just like so many of the other places we have been to in France, we encountered families with small children, teenagers, young adults, groups of young men or women, very old couples, and everyone in between. During our stroll, there were people enjoying a picnic here and there, children playing in the water of the Miroir d’Eau, bicyclists going to and fro, groups of young people sitting and talking softly while enjoying a glass of wine or a beer, and embracing lovers gazing at the rising full moon. It was a very calming and relaxing atmosphere that made us think about the differences compared to our own culture.
We cannot speak to the rest of the country, but certainly where we have been, we have experienced a culture that still demands that people behave respectfully towards each other. The thing that stands out the most for us is that there are very few signs anywhere that prohibit one from doing/behaving in certain ways. In the U.S., not only are we the most litigious country in the world but our sense of “having our rights” makes us very demanding in a way that we have not seen here. There are few signs that demand that you not ride your bike, skateboard, loiter, pander, drink, jump off of or dive from something, or just not stand around etc. etc. etc.
We have also noticed that there are no railings in many places to keep you or your children from falling into or off of something. It is your responsibility to practice common sense for your and your children’s safety. Nor are there strict regulations about which direction to park on the side of a street (other than a one way street). When we were in Monségur at the night market, we noticed that a couple and their teenage son (around 14 years old or so) were tasting wine at one of the vendor’s stalls. The parents gave their son their glass of wine to taste from which he took a small sip. No one reacted with shock and dismay, no one called Child Protective Services, the parents weren’t accused of aiding and abetting the delinquency of their child, and the wine vendor nodded in approval. Maybe, in part, this is why the French don’t have such a problem with public drunkenness or alcoholism. Having a glass of wine with you meal adds to the enjoyment of the taste and isn’t an excuse to get a buzz on or to get drunk.
At the beach in San Sebastián, there were topless sunbathers, from preteens to mothers of all ages. Not one was shocked, disgusted, or ran to throw a towel over the bare breasts laying about on the sand. Being bare breasted took away the salaciousness and replaced it with a natural asexuality. Due to the custom of eating at certain times of the day and late at night , no one ate at the beach. No coolers or bags of food were seen anywhere. In the evening, when the beaches were clear, there wasn’t any litter or trash anywhere. The beaches were absolutely clean. In many other places where there were very crowded conditions, people were very conscious of displaying courtesy towards each other and we never saw nor heard disagreements. While sitting outside at various cafes and restaurants, many times the chairs were only inches from the curb. Cars would whiz by but not a single person threw up their hands in dismay at such a close encounter. And when a meal was delivered that wasn’t up to expectations, no one called back the waiter to complain and demand that he immediately take it back to the kitchen and return with a gourmet version.
Courtesy, tolerance, getting along, and the constant use of “merci” seems the norm and we appreciate it. Change is the only constant, and it is happening everywhere. The difference is that in the U.S., change is the norm (most profoundly in California) where as here, it is slowly evolving. We live in a large city and right in the heart of the Silicon Valley where change is a regular occurrence and the pace of life is hectic. We are sure that in the larger cities like Paris, Marseille, Cannes, Monaco etc. change is much more rapid, so the slower more traditional pace of life in the southwest of France and its beautiful surroundings is what appeals to us.
We are looking forward to returning, to be in one place next summer while we explore an even smaller area where we may seriously consider retiring. Life may, indeed, be like a box of chocolates……you never know what you will get…….but it is also like a book, where one chapter leads to another.