Bordeaux Through the Eyes of Folk Singer Alizon

Bordeaux is often praised for its rock’n’roll vibes due to the presence of bands like JC Satàn and Magnetix, the Vicious Soul festival, the Allez Les Filles organization and record store Total Heaven. It’s a noisy bunch, but that didn’t stop Alizon from setting up there, accompanied only by guitar and sparse melodies evoking folk legends such as Jackson C. Frank, Nick Drake, or the more recent Alela Diane. After releasing her first LP From Crash to Crash a few weeks ago, Alizon took a moment to tell us about a few of her favorite hideaways in lesser known parts of Bordeaux, along with a few of the city’s flaws.

What was your first impression of the city?

Oh my god…it’s so cold (am I crazy or is there a microclimate following me around?!)

Is there a place you regret not knowing about?

Le Saint-Ex. I don’t think it was very folky, though. But every time I hear about it, it sounds like it was amazing.

Any secret spots you love?

Chez Paul’s Place! It’s an adorable little English tea house in the Chartrons neighborhood (a very hipster area) right next to a street with the cutest name in the world: rue de la Pomme d’Or (Golden Apple Street). I met the owner three years ago at a poetry & lit event (“Lieu-dit”) way out in Dordogne, where I was reading a text for the Bêta Collective. Then I decided to go check out his tea house. It’s dimly lit and full of trinkets, dusty books, posters, & kitschy portraits. It smells musty but it’s really charming. I had finally found the one place in Bordeaux where I really wanted to play. I felt like my music made sense there. At the time, he was mainly hosting readings and little film projections, but now they put on acoustic concerts regularly.

What are your favorite streets?

I love my street! Rue Castillon (an extension of rue de Cheverus). Unfortunately, it’s getting a lot busier because of the carnage on Passage Sainte-Catherine, which is under construction right next to my apartment. Otherwise, I really like rue de Ruat that goes down from Chez Mollat at the Lyonnaise bakery (I call it the Lyonnaise bakery but it actually has another name – I have a terrible tendency to paraphrase and rename everything). There’s also rue Camille Sauvageau. And the Place du Palais. When I arrived in Bordeaux, I used to go there a lot to drink coffee by myself at the café Le Cailhau. I would read there, prep for my teaching exam, and fill up little notebooks with all kinds of completely useless things.

Which neighborhood do you never hang out in?

Place de la Victoire and rue Sainte-Catherine. No. Thank you. Bye.

Name a place you’re proud to show to people visiting you in Bordeaux.

Le Petit Mignon! It’s an adorable Corsican restaurant on rue Saint-Rémi. The menu is super accessible, especially during the week, the owner is adorable, they’ve got a Coucheroy on their wine list, and most of all, you can order an enormous breaded goat’s cheese with honey (and when I say breaded, I mean breaded – it’s a delicious, golden, crunchy crust). And as for bars, for me it’s more complicated. I couldn’t name even one concert venue that I really like, with an agenda that really fits my tastes…so I go where my friends are and wherever the few concerts I’m into take me – places like the Void, the Wunderbar, or Bar Tabac Saint-Michel, but that list is pretty eclectic and there’s nowhere I feel really at home. The folk scene and folk mindset are completely nonexistent here, pubs drive me nuts once happy hour is over (even though I do love cider on tap) and wine bars aren’t really funky enough to go too often if you really want to have a night out. Recently, my friends have been dragging me to Chez Ta Mère, on rue Camille Sauvageau. I feel comfortable there.

Are there any places you can go to feel like you’re not in Bordeaux anymore?

I wouldn’t say it totally takes you out of Bordeaux, but Place Saint-Michel. It’s a place where you can breathe and where time and everything going on around you is suspended for a little while.

What’s the best place to do nothing?

If you don’t want to do anything while doing everything at the same time, I’d have to say Place Saint-Michel again. But if you really want to do nothing at all (but with a good mint tea, some hot goat’s cheese and the perfect angle of sunlight): Chez Saïd. I’ve only been going there since I recorded my album in August of 2015. It’s where a bunch of adorable goofs hang out, and I fell instantly and madly in love with them all. Oh, and speaking of Chez Saïd, I’ve got two crazy anecdotes: the first song on my album From Crash to Crash is named after it. And I learned two days ago that Chez Saïd’s real name is actually Chat Noir Cha Vert.

What time of year do you dread?

I hate back-to-school time in September because of all the class outings, group meals and other flocks of students following each other around like sheep. I also dread Les Épicuriales, it’s this pathetic event where a bunch of stands crowd onto the Toury alleyways to promote the same old bars and restaurants for two weeks. Everything is expensive, everyone’s yelling, everything’s ugly, bottles of gross white wine spill out of ice buckets, and so on. And I also hate the month of August in general because nothing is happening and the probability of running into someone on a Segway increases significantly.

What’s the best urban legend about Bordeaux?

When I arrived in Bordeaux four years ago, a succession of disappearances hit the city (super scary). At the time, there was an issue with organ trafficking throughout France. It’s possible I came up with an urban legend myself by piecing little bits together, but I thought people were imagining that a mysterious and macabre person was wandering the streets and tearing out the organs of poor drunken souls like plums (as they came out of this awful club called La Plage) and putting them in little coolers and throwing their bodies into the Garonne river.

What’s your favorite cultural event?

I really like the idea of the Bordeaux Rock festival. Every year, they put on a series of simultaneous concerts in several bars (more or less grouped according to genre). You can start the night out in one bar and then move to another, and so on. And it’s only three euros for three days. I also like the Musical Écran festival, and the idea behind the Relâche project by Allez Les Filles. They put on free outdoor shows and DJ sets all summer long in a variety of great spots in Bordeaux.

What are the clichés that ruin the city for you?

Rue Sainte-Catherine, again and always — it’s the biggest pedestrian shopping street in Europe, and the most repulsive too. Then there’s the Bordeaux of bachelorette parties for girls from Province wearing bunny ears and drinking too-sweet mojitos at the Calle Ocho or on the wild dancefloor at Quai de Paludate (and their male counterparts with their crew cuts and open shirts nursing bottles of vodka on the tram, thinking about heading over to do an activity like go on one of the fair rides at the Fêtes de la Madeleine). There’s also the Beardy-Bordeaux (hipster) who thinks he’s invented the concept of the ecosystem or the Bordeaux-Butternut (green hipster) who looks down at you when you don’t know the name of the mysterious autumn vegetable at the organic Chartrons market.

Photo: Pauline Pujol Charles / Article translated by Andrea Perdue