Dispatch from Bordeaux
a photo essay by Beth Newberry
The Place de Quinconces, a large public space, features circuses, antique markets and carnivals throughout the year. I like to visit this stoic statue of Michel de Montaigne, the French philosopher who popularized the essay as a genre.
All images ©Beth Newberry; used with permission
What I remember most from the move was how tired I was.
We sold a house, two cars, left our jobs in the U.S. We said lots of goodbyes. Crying and reflecting required our energy, something we needed to save to pack, move, sell, pack more, and fill out paperwork.
Paperwork for visas. (Did you provide the original and 2 duplicates of each required item?)
Paperwork for moving companies and French customs. (Real question from customs: How many pingpong tables will you be moving? Answer: None.)
Paperwork to move our dog overseas. (Did the USDA representative sign the paperwork no more than ten days before departure?)
“So what do you think?” my husband Kris asked me in September of 2016 when his employer offered him the opportunity to expatriate to Bordeaux, France.
Even though we would continue to discuss the pros and cons of this chance-of-ten-lifetimes prospect, I already knew we would say yes.
But the first thing I said to Kris was, “What are we going to do with Roscoe?” Roscoe, our 7-year-old, 70-pound hound dog/terrier mix.
“He can come with us.”
“On the plane?!?!”
Roscoe sunbathing on the terrasse of our apartment
while keeping an eye on what is going on inside.
In the next four months before we flew from the U.S. to Bordeaux, France, I obsessed over taking Roscoe with us: was it unkind or inhumane to put him in the cargo hold of three flights?
Should I re-home him with my parents?
Could I take a cross-Atlantic cruise ship that allowed dogs from New Orleans to northern Spain and then drive to France?
Could I train him as an animal companion so he could fly in economy with me?
We prepared with our vet and practiced finding the right dosage of chill-out pills to keep Roscoe alert, but quell his anxiety and his hound-dog yowls. And we drove from Louisville, Kentucky, to Atlanta so he would only have to be on two flights to arrive in Bordeaux. The Delta ground crew found us at the gate with a tiny card, a receipt of sorts, to assure us Roscoe had made it on board and that the flight crew was aware he was on board, too.
But we were tired.
Confirmation from Delta that Roscoe was on board Air France Flight 689 Atlanta to Paris
Tired, but relieved to be our way to France.
(Photo by Kris Hinett.)
The thing I remember most of our arrival in Bordeaux is how visceral every moment seemed. The air was thinner, you could see the brightness in everything, feel things quickly. The routines—waking up, having tea, taking a walk, going to the grocery, making dinner—felt fresh and pleasing instead of habitual or obligatory.
We experienced the joy of disconnection and possibility.
Roscoe was having none of it.
Our first month in Bordeaux, we lived in a small furnished apartment with a jardin perfect for Roscoe to have some outdoor space. Even though we brought Roscoe’s familiar crate, dog bed and a toy or two, everything else was new about this place: the sounds of neighbors entering their apartments, unfamiliar furniture, and from what I observed of him, Bordeaux smells nothing like Louisville.
Merci de faire en sorte que votre chien n'aboit pas toute la journee. C'est absolument insupportable pour les voisins.(Thank you for making sure your dog does not bark all day. It is absolutely unbearable for the neighbors.)
Kris and Roscoe on our first day in Bordeaux,
outside of our temporary apartment.
L’escargot: they really are everywhere here.
Old weeds, new grass, wet leaves: Roscoe’s
view of the winter ground.
Street art adjacent to the Darwin Ecosystème
in Bordeaux’s La Bastide neighborhood.
Michel de Montaigne surrounded by a carnival, overlooking a game called, “Aloha.”
We went to the laundry mat every few days where, as the washing machines whirled and the attendant swept the floor inside, Roscoe and I sat on the curb in the sunshine.
The meditative cycle of the washing machines.
Roscoe and I enjoy the winter sunshine while waiting outside la laverie automatique.
Roscoe, as observant as a poet, but with a smaller vocabulary.
We moved to the Left Bank of the Garonne River, 40 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, in March, 2017 to the neighborhood of Bacalan, which was historically an industrial area near the river’s docks and has a history of social engagement and labor activism.
A housing and population boom is remaking the neighborhood into a predominantly residential district. There are tall apartment buildings mixed with traditional one-story stone or two-story stucco houses next to empty for-now lots with fencing turned to canvases for street artists.
Le Pont Jacques Chaban Delmas is Bordeaux’s newest bridge crossing the Garonne River.
The middle section rises on pillars to allow tall ships into the city.
Discarded construction fencing and clearly
New construction materials nestled against an
older home in Bacalan, under a painted advertisement for wine.
Priorities. As seen at Les Vivres De L’Art, a steel sculpture garden, studio and gallery space in Bacalan, Bordeaux.
Summer of 2017, street art in our neighborhood
A woman watches over the locks at Bassins à Flot
in Bordeaux, where boats and small cruise ships
exit into the Garonne River.
Even as Bacalan is reinvented with thousands
of new residents and new apartments, shadows
of old buildings remain.
Roscoe’s anxieties eased a bit once our furniture arrived, which brought familiar things and smells.
A kitchen counter-style French pique-nique to celebrate
signing a lease and moving into our apartment in Bacalan.
But Kris and I continued during the spring and summer to take Roscoe with us most places when we could, which is a common practice in France, and that has helped socialize him more.
You want to take your dog on the patio of the café? No problem! We will bring him his own water dish.
Roscoe’s first ride on the tram, Bordeaux’s
light rail system.
Bordeaux has an initiative to keep public spaces cleaner from litter of all kinds, including paper, plastic and canine, so the cities provide these
poop-bag dispensers (with pictorial explanation)
in neighborhoods, green spaces, and tourist areas.
For their love of dogs, the French don’t mess with la merde. Bordeaux has a campaign to encourage dog owners to clean up after their pets. It’s unusual for a culture where social practices aren’t explained as they are in America. The French would never put a warning on a cup of coffee that the contents are hot. But here, they do have a diagram of how to use a bag (which the city provides) to pick up your dog’s droppings.
We’re approaching our first anniversary in Bordeaux, and Roscoe and I are both more settled and less anxious. We still explore the neighborhood and the riverfront together. But he’s more comfortable and confident to be left at home, which means Kris and I can explore the old city and the surrounding vineyards and ocean towns near our home.
Summer fig season at the Sunday farmer’s market.
Roscoe and I find lots of forgotten or lost
objects on our walks. He finds hunks of
baguette, while I found someone’s lost love.
Roscoe resembles this dog in a neighborhood mural.
Roscoe on the beach at Cap Ferret, about 40 miles from Bordeaux, exploring the beach and this World War II Nazi bunker.
Roscoe leads the way on neighborhood exploration. By the
autumn of 2017, he had adjusted to his new home.