Bridgwater is incredibly fortunate to be twinned with the French Mediterranean town of La Ciotat. Apart from both once having a bit of industry there’s not a right lot in common. However, this ‘jumelage’ has been in existence since 1957 so look ye not gift horses in mouths.
The La Ciotat jumelage committee sit in constant readiness for Bridgwater visitors to turn up to bestow upon them bundles of generosity, camaraderie, friendship and hospitality. Well, not just Bridgwater visitors, they also have twin towns in Germany and Slovenia and maybe Italy, although the Mayors apparently keep getting shot there. The French support International relations in a big way and councils have a budget to support this whilst in England ‘twinning’ is a scary word, little financial backing is provided by the councils, people ‘pay their own way’ and an increasing number of ‘little Englanders’ are voting UKIP. C’est la vie, we might say (unless we’re UKIP) (which we aren’t).
Bridgwater-La Ciotat veterans
This time La Ciotat played host to a community choir led by natural voice practitioner Claire Anstee. The 35 strong group also included none singers and some seasoned Bridgwater-La Ciotat veterans, notably Keith Giles currently the Bridgwater Twinning rep for the French link.
Flying out from Bristol to Nice at an unappealingly early 7am (which meant getting to the airport at 5am) the group landed in Cote ‘d’azur sunshine, boarded the waiting coach and were in La Ciotat by 1230.
Staying at the Hotel Croix de Malte run by Pierre and his team (largely a man from Brittany called Stefan) the travellers were inches from both beach, harbour and town centre. Some went shopping, some went into the sea and the rest went to the Calanques. That’s a range of intriguingly shaped coastal peaks and inlets which stretch from La Ciotat to nearby Cassis. People were in the water, yes in October, in Eagles Beak bay and wandering the sub tropical gardens of the nearby park Mugel.
Sur Les Quais
La Ciotat was once an industrial dockyard. As that industry declined the yachting fraternity moved in and now you can’t move for yachts all along the harbour side and in the old dock. Massive yachts. Yachts so big that you could walk from one end to the other and you’d be in the Bahamas . Crews appeared to be mainly Brits (if you count Australians) (which isn’t easy given the rate of unreported boomerang incidents). The choir had a concert on the quayside in the shadow of the yachts. A nightclub called ‘Sur Les Quais’ (yes, ‘on the quays’) stepped in last minute when the planned concert at the Eden theatre was pulled because of ‘technical difficulties’ –which also extended to the planned French choir also not making it.
But never mind, the singers sang and did their show on the stage of the nightclub with a big and appreciative audience, largely from the jumelage committee, but also including a few bemused matelots presumably spotting the notice ‘welcome to the Bridgwater choir’ on a sign where they expected to see ‘ce soir DJ Jean-Claud avec son eep-op’.
La Voie Douce
A rapid deployment of French singing talent saved the day from being a one sided Britfest as up stepped Jean-Marie Vandamme to sing something from Mozart and a fellow twinning worker to sing Amazing Grace. And then in stepped DJJC and the ripping sounds of the soundsystem ripped arses from chairs and set feet a flying as the nightclub reverted to purpose with the Brits leading the way in a ‘bit of a dance’.
A new feature of La Ciotat life is ‘La Voie Douce’, literally ‘the soft track’ but actually a converted railway line. Converted into a railway line that both pedestrians and cyclists can pass along (without the trains). Leading from very near the Croix de Malte in the centre of town it takes people comfortably to the edge of town near la Bastide Marin, which is a small chateau within it’s own grounds that the local council have done up . And so we took a walk up it and at the end were the French jumelage people, this time armed with bread, cheese, a paste made from olives, some rose wine, awkwardly interspersed anchovies, and some grilled sausages (for the vegetarians) (not really, they probably had anchovies).
une autre jour in Eden
On the final day the group were invited into the Eden Theatre. Right next door to the Croix De Malte. This was the first cinema in the world. The Lumiere brothers had filmed the first movie ‘train entering La Ciotat Station’ in La Ciotat and then premiered it here. The plot wasn’t up to much. Train enters station then stops. But it paved the way for the entire movie industry and numerous late night art movies on BBC 2.
Taking advantage of the constant good weather, several people went off to nearby Cassis-obviously at one time twinned with Burnham (and Highbridge) (well, done that jumelage committee) and by the final night we invited all the French (not ALL of them obviously, that would be 67 million and the Croix De Malte can only hold 50) to a little party. Which seemed to also include some of the yachting fraternity. And inevitably turned into another opportunity to dance la nuit away.
This particular visit was so popular with the French Jumelage ctte that they decided to come over to Somerset next year so we could return the favour. But also it was important because we negotiated a restoration of the student exchange links which had been laying on the shelf for a few years. So…bon chance and ca plan pour moi!