For some reason, journalists who try
to describe Bordeaux almost aways fall back on clichés. For decades
it seemed as though the same article were being published again
and again, always dredging up the same old stereotypes: The city’s
intellectual heritage made it arrogant; the Bordelais are wealthy,
insular and terribly bourgeois. Yet like all communities that began
as ports, Bordeaux has always been a place of trade and cross-cultural
exchange, a place where several languages are spoken. The port may
no longer dominate the city as it once did, but it still sparks
the imagination—and what determines the future more than that?
it’s true that Bordeaux is hardly prone to palace coups (it has
had only two mayors in nearly 60 years), the old descriptions of
the town have become almost laughably obsolete, swept away by the
New Economy, globalization, intensified trade, and demographic and
ethnic shifts. Any city that is trying to clean up its historic
center, ban automobiles, lure former residents back from the suburbs,
build a bridge, refurbish its waterfront and cut taxes can no longer
be the “Sleeping Beauty” described by travelers.
artists, scientists—are contributing their talents, indifferent
to stereotypes depicting Bordeaux as a place frozen in some eternal
tableau of stone and wine. Younger, more mobile and more attuned
to the outside world, they’ve often chosen to live here for the
salutary climate. After all, this is the gateway to the south, and
what’s been good for the grapevines, they reason, is surely good
Of course, not all creative Bordelais are iconoclasts.
Institutions such as the Grand Théâtre still enjoy tremendous prestige,
and the wine industry has lost none of its luster. But there’s a
fresh breeze blowing along the quays and through the squares and
taverns. The city is alive with night music, block parties, festivals,
outdoor markets and picnics.
No one knows what Bordeaux will become
once its new tram lines have been completed and the scaffolding
is removed from newly gleaming monuments. But if the following people
are any indication, the city has a dynamic future ahead of it.
Jean-Luc Rumeau [multimedia wizard]
Why spend 10 hours drawing on paper, wondered architect Jean-Luc
Rumeau, when computer programs can bring a design to life in practically
no time at all, and offer incredible technical precision and great
looks to boot? His musings gave birth to Axyz,
a multimedia firm specializing in 3-D imaging. Boasting a top-notch
team of architects, artists, computer specialists, designers and
special-effects people, Axyz—a name combining the word "axis" with
X, Y and Z, the three geometrical axes—has become the leading French
architectural imaging company in the decade since its creation,
executing more than 2,500 plans by architects and designers seeking
to snag contracts with developers, municipalities and industries.
The company’s most notable accomplishments
to date include France’s bid to host the 2008 Olympic Games, plans
for the Beijing Opera and the Dubai airport. It’s currently working
on a luxury complex in the Persian Gulf. A Canadian subsidiary launched
in 1999 gave the company a foothold in North America, where Rumeau
has his eye on the lucrative U.S. market.
Jacques Bernar [fashion revolutionary]
Clothing designer Jacques Bernar—a professor at Bordeaux’s Ecole
des Beaux-Arts—sees a revolution under way in the world of apparel,
with conventional textiles gradually losing ground to high-tech
polymers. And he should know. After carefully studying aerospace
materials, he is now experimenting with new synthetics derived from
vinyls, thermoplastics and elastomers. His name for them is rodalège
(from the Greek radalegein, "to say sweet things").
French couturiers are wildly enthusiastic
about his creations, and Féraud, Lacroix, Lagerfeld and Chanel have
all ordered his unusual fabrics. Jean-Paul Gaultier’s famous coat
for Madonna is rodalège; billionaire Mona Ayoub saw it and
had to have one too. Paco Rabanne calls Bernar "an embroiderer for
the 21st century." Indeed, you could say that Bernar and his association
Matières Proches are creating a whole new brand of French dressing.
Bernard Alaux [science educator]
Bernard Alaux has a mission: to share his passion for science with
the largest possible number of people. He’s certainly got the right
job for it. For the past six years, Alaux has directed Cap
Sciences, one of Bordeaux’s most popular attractions. Administered
by five regional universities, this hands-on sci-tech museum welcomes
some 120,000 visitors a year, all eager to better understand the
times we live in. Such pertinent issues as genetics, cloning and
what’s in our food are dealt with in exhibits that owe their spectacular
success to their supremely entertaining presentations—some have
even traveled on to such prestigious venues as the Pompidou Museum
and the Cité des Sciences in Paris.
On the international level, Cap Sciences
is currently co-producing an exhibit about sleep with Montreal’s
new Centre des Sciences. Closer to home, it is developing a program
with the Hospital Foundation of France called "science reporters,"
in which hospitals will be opened to children to help them understand
every aspect of what goes on there, from the specific duties of
the staff to the technologies they use.
"We should all be more familiar with the
latest research," declares Alaux. "In fact, lots of scientific work
nowadays deserves to be on the front page."
Alain Catherineau [high-flying ébéniste]
Alain Catherineau has been dubbed the couturier of aircraft manufacturers.
Indeed, some of the world’s most luxurious planes have been fitted
with high-end cabinetry produced by his company, a Bordeaux institution
for more than two centuries. The secret to Catherineau’s success
lies in the successful marriage of high-tech materials—lightweight,
fireproof, elegant composites developed by the company—and centuries-old
savoir faire, a winning combination that has made it a French market
leader and given it an edge over its U.S., Canadian and German competitors.
The entire manufacturing process is computerized, with finishes
executed by the country’s best ébénistes. Such is the company’s
reputation that all the major woodworking schools send their students
Catherineau has enjoyed a longstanding relationship
with Dassault, to whom he has delivered more than 500 Falcon business
jets, but nowadays he is working most closely with Airbus, fitting
its VIP planes with precious woods. Thanks to his hard work, business
tycoons, heads of state and emirs are traveling in the lap of luxury.
As are sailing champions. Indeed, the sea represents a whole new
market for this ébéniste of the air: He recently began manufacturing
ultralight furniture for racing boats.
Eric Chevance ["all new" theater director]
Eric Chevance lives and works in a loftlike space in a former shoe
factory, far from the city center. But soles have given way to soul.
Founded in 1998, Chevance’s Tout Nouveau Théatre (TNT)—a multidisciplinary
venue dominated by theater and dance—aims to bring something different
to the cultural landscape. During its few short years, the avant-garde
group has earned respect nationwide for its experimental creations.
In one such project, the TNT is offering
residencies to photojournalists more accustomed to covering the
world; for a little while, at least, they will put away their passports
and focus exclusively on Bordeaux. Their work will be exhibited
around the city on captionless posters, and residents will be given
a chance to express their reactions. TNT also has gardens that neighborhood
locals help tend. Hopefully, through weeding and watering, they
will become curious about the theater itself.
Chevance sees it as a place to question
and confront, to invent new ways of working in the arts. "It is
crucial," he says, "to re-think both places of expression and the
role of artists in the city."
Xavier Pommereau [lifesaving psychiatrist]
Every year, a few hundred youngsters aged 12 to 25 pass through
Bordeaux’s Centre Jean Abadie, the first psychiatric unit in France
specifically created as a refuge for suicidal teenagers and young
adults. Since it was founded in 1992, this small halfway house has
been widely copied throughout Europe.
It was psychiatrist Xavier Pommereau, 49,
who got the idea of creating a pilot unit that could serve as an
intermediary step between the ICU and the hospital environment.
Staffed by volunteers, the Centre Abadie has obtained impressive
results, considerably lowering the rate of repeat attempts and steering
most of its patients to psychotherapy. But suicide isn’t Pommereau’s
only concern. In a report presented to the government this past
April, he made a series of proposals to help cut the rate of traffic
accidents, the other leading cause of death among young people.
A private man absorbed in his studies of
le mal-être, Pommereau is the author of a remarkable "dictionary
of madness" and invaluable works on the subject he knows best.
L’Adolescent suicidaire, Quand l’adolescent va mal and Un
coquelicot en enfer explore a common theme: "Modern adolescence
is a never-ending transition."
Sylviane Sambor [literary impresario]
A champion of cultural diversity, Sylviane Sambor considers Bordeaux
a crossroads: a "humanistic city poised on the border between northern
and southern Europe." By founding Le
Carrefour des Littératures in 1987, the young dynamo created
a new kind of crossroads—this one literary. A unique festival, the
Carrefour brings authors from all over the word to this riverside
town—but don’t expect dry lectures on the latest post-modern theories
in some staid academic setting. Sambor’s brilliant idea was to take
books to the places where people congregate. Indeed, during the
10 days or so that the event is under way, participants read their
works and commune with the public at venues as varied as cafés,
community rec centers—even an eyeglass store!
Each year, the Carrefour—which favors "meaningful,"
noncommercial creations—showcases a different country, but one nation
is always represented: Portugal. That choice reflects the passion
of the festival’s founder. Indeed, Sambor is an unabashed lusophile
who discovered Portuguese literature back in the ’80s and has been
a devoted fan ever since. Portuguese presidents have attended the
festival’s official opening on more than one occasion, and Sambor
herself has been awarded that country’s highest cultural decorations.
Bertrand Cantat [pop star activist]
At age 37, Bertrand Cantat is still a rebel at heart. The lead singer
of Noir Désir, France’s hottest rock band, came to music via the
poetry of Jim Morrison and old Doors LPs; other inspirations have
included such American writers as Faulkner, Fante and Williams.
For Cantat, singing means taking a stand.
Even back in 1980, when he formed the band with a bunch of his high
school buddies from Bordeaux, Noir
Désir sang about political and social struggles. For the past
20 years, it has championed such disparate causes and characters
as the Indians of Chiapas, human rights in Tibet and anti-globalization
activist José Bové. Produced by American Ted Nicely, the genre-defying
band (whose members say they’re like family) claims to reject the
rules of show business; they’re wary of commercial pressures and
carefully select their rare television appearances. Some complain
that they put their politics before their music—but their concerts
are always packed.
Yves Parlier [seafaring scientist]
Yves Parlier, 41, has been dubbed "the extraterrestrial" because
of his extraordinary ability to analyze the weather—and take advantage
of it. But this elite sailor cum engineer who has captured
practically every title in ocean racing believes it’s his experience
with high technology that has always given him an edge. Fascinated
by aerodynamics and hydraulics, he was one of the first to understand
that the future of racing boats lay with composite materials.
For the past 10 years, Parlier has been
at the helm of Aquitaine Innovations—quite literally a floating
laboratory designed to showcase the region’s technology and know-how.
Wherever he goes, Parlier is always transporting experiments involving
industrial and space technologies. First and foremost, though, he
is a thrill seeker: Everyone in France recalls his 2000 expedition
in the last Vendée Globe—a nonstop single-handed round-the-world
race—when this maritime MacGyver rebuilt a broken mast all by himself
and survived a long ocean voyage by eating seaweed and flying fish.
Parlier’s next project is Gerris, a revolutionary
multihull he devised when he was laid up in the hospital a couple
of years ago following a serious paragliding accident. If his calculations
are correct, it should win him a few more trophies.
Martine Bedin [maverick designer]
She’s worked on castles, a cathedral, a bookstore—even city buses—but
Martine Bedin, 44, considers herself first and foremost a "furniture
artist." As a young architecture student in Italy, Bedin made the
acquaintance of Ettore Sottsass and was part of the group that,
under his tutelage, co-founded the avant-garde Memphis atelier,
an affiliation that propelled her to the top of the international
design world. Since Memphis disbanded, she has divided her time
between applied research and creating unique collectors’ items.
After running the accessories division of
Esprit International in San Francisco and stints as artistic director
at Vuitton, Hermès and Daniel Hechter, she and her husband started
their own business, La Manufacture Familiale—a mail-order design
firm based in Bordeaux that produces handcrafted furniture and objects
from exotic woods. Bedin mostly works alone, creating an annual
collection of original furnishings and objects that she manufactures
on demand. As if that weren’t enough, she has also designed homes
in Toulouse, Bordeaux and Corsica, including "La Maison Rouge,"
a prototype house on the hills overlooking the town.
Children and adults alike fondly recall
a show Bedin organized for the Millennium celebrations featuring
playground equipment conceived by such design luminaries as Karim
Rashid. Next year, her hometown will salute her with an exhibit
at the Museum of Decorative Arts, running from February 6 to April
Eric Roux [schoolhouse rocker]
Eric Roux firmly believes that music can change lives. When the
young man founded the Barbey
Rock School back in 1988, however, the reaction was somewhat
downbeat: No one in France thought that pop music—and particularly
rock ’n’ roll—was something that could be taught. Roux proved them
wrong. Housed at a local theater, his unique school boasts an unusually
comprehensive curriculum that runs the gamut from musical training
and rehearsals to recording and distribution. At once a classroom,
a concert hall and a recording studio, it welcomes countless aspiring
Roux’s Rock School has also converted a
bus into a mobile studio that crisscrosses the countryside scouting
out new talent, and he hopes to see more and more people from every
walk of life get involved in music. For the past three years, the
school has even organized an open-air festival on the grounds of
the town prison. But its proudest accomplishment is a program for
dozens of kids aged 8 to 11—future rock stars, perhaps, who may
even sing in French.
Didier Pineau [the ultimate recycler]
Trash talk notwithstanding, garbage isn’t a subject that captivates
most people. Didier Pineau, however, is happy to take care of the
clean-up work. Pineau, 48, has made it his mission to promote the
benefits of the plasma torch, a technology he helped develop while
working at Aérospatiale Aquitaine. Acting on a hunch that it could
have extraordinary industrial applications, Pineau bought up the
patents in 1992 and created Europlasma.
Sure enough, the plasma torch—originally used in ballistic missile
tests—soon found new applications. It is now used to neutralize
asbestos and residues from municipal waste incinerators that previously
had to be buried in special solid-waste dumps. One zap and a trip
through Europlasma’s vitrification unit and they’re transformed
into a kind of harmless glass. Recycled into paving blocks, street
lamps or even polar fleece, they save landfill space and are environmentally
Company sales have been rising steadily,
posting a $6.8 million increase last year, when Europlasma was also
listed on the Paris stock exchange. Its performance recently caught
the eye of the Japanese: Pineau has signed contracts with Kobe Steel
and Hitachi Zosen that could generate $100 million over a 10-year
Jean-Didier Vincent [neurobiologist and epicure]
Jean-Didier Vincent has published so many papers and collaborated
on so many collective works that he has lost count. A professor
at the Institut de France and director of the neurobiology institute
at the National Center for Scientific Research, he specializes in
a field that would seem particularly well suited to a wine-growing
region: the neurophysiology of smell. His biggest claim to fame,
however, is the creation of a new branch of biology known as neuroendocrinology,
which studies the interactions between the glands and the nervous
system. Through his work in this field, he was among the first to
show how certain hormones act on the brain and the nervous system
to regulate such functions as the body’s hydromineral balance, reproduction
A lively man with a penchant for colorful
bow ties, Vincent is also a talented writer. He has published several
best-selling works of popular science, including La Biologie
des passions and Casanova, la contagion du plaisir, which
explore the biological mechanisms that govern passion, and La
vie est une fable and La chair et le diable, dealing
with the origin of life. But his true passion for life’s mystery
is revealed at the dinner table, where he can expound at length
on the flavor of foie gras.
Anne Lacaton [populist architect]
Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal first found themselves in the
limelight in 1993, with the completion of a unique house in the
Bordeaux suburbs. The outside walls of the distinctive, 650-square-foot
residence were actually moving panels operated by a system of jacks;
the inside featured a flexible floor plan that made it easy to re-arrange
furniture. The cost? A mere $65,000, all that the buyers—a couple
of railway workers—were able to afford. The structure sparked lively
discussions about single-family homes, a field long neglected by
architects in favor of large projects and prestigious government
Lacaton’s house sent a clear message: Architectural
ambitions can be achieved regardless of the budget. In 1998, she
used the same approach to create an equally unique low-cost house
in the Bassin d’Arcachon. To avoid cutting down trees, she incorporated
them into the house as a design element—there are now six pines
in the living room! Winners of the Grand Prix National d’Architecture
Jeune Talent in 1999, Lacaton and Vassal are not proponents of sophisticated,
sleek, minimalist architecture but prefer to bring out the inherent
qualities and function of a space. The subjects of an exhibition
and a documentary, Lacaton and Vassal create architecture that leaves
no one indifferent.
Philippe Richard [iconoclastic horticulturalist]
Few people can converse in Latin with a Japanese botanist about
Chelidonium majus, a plant that cures warts, but Philippe
Richard is one of them. This self-effacing scientist runs Bordeaux’s
garden, which boasts a fabulous collection of 300,000 plant
illustrations—some dating back to the 18th century—and a 6,000-volume
Part of this treasure-trove is about to
make its way across the river, where a national botanical conservatory
is slated to open at the end of 2003. The unique 11-acre facility—expected
to cost nearly $9 million—will include a library, exhibition space,
conference center, restaurant, greenhouses and a collection of plants
from around the world. Both scientific and educational, the garden
is expected to captivate a wide audience with nearly a dozen large-scale
displays re-creating the geology of southwestern France, from the
sand dunes of the Atlantic coast to the limestone cliffs of the
Cognac region. Additional attractions include an astonishing variety
of aquatic plants and thematic plantings.
And the new conservatory will differ from
the typical jardin à la française in another respect: In
place of the usual manicured hedges and flower beds, many of the
plantings will be allowed to evolve naturally, to demonstrate how
vegetation changes over time in the wild. Illustrating biodiversity
and emphasizing the importance of using renewable natural resources
also figure among the curator’s goals. Richard, who additionally
heads the association of botanical gardens of France and French-speaking
countries, has no doubt that this innovative project will flourish.s
Photos: ©Jacques Guillard/SCOPE, ©Baudoin