All college students in France depend on a university within their region. All students in a given region go to the university of that region, unless they’re studying certain special subjects which aren’t taught there. In Paris, it’s Paris - its own little region. In the provinces, universities are located in the major cities: Rennes, Grenoble, Aix, Montpellier, Lille, Bordeaux... etc, etc, etc. Until recently, all students from the colonies - of which France had many scattered across the globe - were governed by the rectorat of Bordeaux and went to college there. Which I always felt was cruel to the sons and daughters of ex-slaves whose ancestors had been sold into slavery by traders right here in Bordeaux.
Be that as it may, I’m off to Bordeaux... to visit friends who used to have a restaurant in Montmartre. An excellent, reasonably-priced and friendly restaurant where I spent an inordinate amount of time and money.
Thanks to the TGV bullet train (see my previous blog, Take (the) A Train), that trip now takes only three hours to cover a distance of about 500 km (300 miles). Because I arrive during lunch hour, I’m on my own to make my way to their new restaurant, La Guimbarde des Chartrons. It’s in a neighborhood called Les Chartrons because of the Chartreux convent founded there way back when the area was a marsh (think green Chartreuse liqueur). My instructions are to catch the Tram C right in front of the train station. I fight with the tram ticket machine because here - as in the Paris Métro and in the States as well - entry-level jobs such as ticket sales are now performed by machines that don’t ask for raises or apply for overtime or go on strike. Luckily, a not-too-soused panhandler comes up and helps me out, for which I give him a whopping euro, almost as much as the ticket, but hey, who’s counting? He was nice about it and very enterprising.
The tram stop is near the Place du Marché des Chartrons, an octagonal building that used to be the neighborhood farmer’s market but is now a center for cultural events - which is pretty standard recycling of urban structures in French cities. It reminds me quite a bit of the old Les Halles market buildings in Paris that were torn down in the late Sixties. But as Lélia, Gilles and I have a lot of catching up to do - and as they have a large dinner crowd to serve - the rest of Bordeaux will have to wait until tomorrow.
Day 2: I’m not allowed to help set up the restaurant in the morning. Or I’m dispensed of working. Depends on how you look at it. Lunch comes early so that they can be ready for the customers by noon. But after the dust settles, Lélia takes me for a walk in Jardin Public, a huge public garden that didn’t deserve a name of its own, I guess. We sit and have a cup of tea while Tino, their dog, sleeps under the table. Mothers walk by with children, students push bikes, and then I spot something familiar on the pond: Canada geese! Even over here! Then it’s back to the restaurant to get ready for the dinner crowd.
|Pont de Pierre|
I wander through the narrow, winding streets of the older section of the city - the part nearer the river - and end up at Eglise St. Pierre, equally old but more intimate by far than the Cathedral. As I come out, I look up and see a guy seemingly suspended in mid-air but actually perched on a tiny balcony, typing away on his laptop. A strange juxtaposition of eras, almost like time travel.
Across from it is a reflecting pool not even an inch deep... just enough to amuse children and photographers alike.