Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Aller à la Selle ! ! ! The Bar That Time Forgot . . .

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In the small city of Morlaix in Brittany the other day I came across what may be the eighth wonder of the world. I had taken a little travelled passage and found myself in a part of that town previously unknown to me, despite many years of visits. The first sights that caught my eye there were two obviously closed and abandoned nightclubs whose glory days were long past, the club La Cabane, and La Bodega. Their signs were still out on display though.
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From the Bodega, I glanced down a street and was treated to a large old train station style clock, which had no hands. Was this the clock where time stands still ? The land that time forgot ? The place where it can be any time you wish it to be ?
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Walking closer I could read the sign on the wall near the timeless clock to decipher, "La Selle Pub, the Pub In the City". Now I really didn't give this more thought than simply reading and translating to "The Saddle Pub". In French "la selle" means a saddle for a horse, or the seat on a bicycle. A great name, a good place to sit in a saddle and take a ride having a cold drink on a hot summer day.
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There were several intriguing old signs on the exterior walls which captured my attention as I admired the decorative taste of the owner, such as this faded wood sign commemorating the first balloon crossing of the Grand Canyon. Hmm, I thought, rather a fine old sign. (Apparently it is unclear if this refers to the Grand Canyon in Arizona or some other place ... )
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La Selle Pub is on the corner of la rue Haute and la rue du Chateau in Morlaix, and thus has two entrance doors, both of which are thoroughly inviting as seen from the street.
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Upon entering La Selle, one is greeted by the easy going and friendly owner, Mr Alain Robin. I have never felt so immediately at ease when walking into a bar for the first time, but here it was quickly apparent that this was no ordinary pub, on the contrary, it quickly turned out to be an extraordinarily cozy and densely decorated place, a private museum of surprising proportions. I asked if I might be allowed to take a few photographs inside, Mr Robin responded without the slightest hesitation that I could take all the photographs I wished to, "tout ce que voulez". A most pleasant surprise to be offered a chance to photograph such an amazing place, and I hadn't even ordered a drink yet. My deepest thanks to Mr Robin for his considerable hospitality.
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Thus encouraged I slowly inspected the interior, climbing the stairs to the two rooms on the upper floor, before coming back down the spiral staircase to the the ground level. Everywhere you look there is a multitude of visually captivating objects : posters, photos, books, sculpture, mirrors, bumper stickers, news clippings, a piano, a model hot air balloon, model ships, paper currency from all over the world tacked up, signs, magazine covers (including the Paris Match cover from 1963 when Kennedy was assassinated); an unbelievable, mind bending, jaw dropping, gasp provoking collection ranging from the proverbial sublime to the ridiculous.

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There was even a real leather saddle propped up against a wall. The only thing missing was one of those bucking bronco machines that some bars in Texas are equipped with. But then this isn't Texas.
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The seating areas were warm and conducive to settling in for a deep pint of beer with good friends and good conversation, along with towels on the tables to mop up the spills.
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A skeleton with legs akimbo bears a sign announcing that he is doing a lot better since he stopped drinking Coreff (a brand of beer brewed in Brittany)..

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Hardly any surface from floor to ceiling, including the ceiling was left undecorated. This is the result of 36 years of collecting, as la Selle Pub opened in 1975, and Alain Robin has been running the bar since then, encouraging people to bring back souvenirs from their travels to contribute to the museum. An awesome tableau all around, nearly anywhere the camera was pointed an amazing array of material filled the view..

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It took me a little while, but it finally dawned on me that in French the word "la selle" has two meanings in fact. As mentionned above "la selle" means a riding saddle, but when used in the plural, "les selles" also means "human excrement" (a more medically proper term than the more frequently used though colloquial "Merde"). I should have caught on faster, as there were numerous decorative items which should have clued me in to the double entendre had I been thinking more rapidly that day, but it was the photo of Frank Zappa seated on a toilet that finally brought it home for me.
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There is an expression in French, though little used, which is : "aller à la selle", which means to go to the toilets to do sitting down type business. When I departed the pub after shooting an indecent number of photographs inside, I was presented with a certificate, a diploma of sorts, on which the phrase "Je vais à la Selle, c'est encore là qu'on est le mieux" figures prominently . . . "I go to la Selle, it is there where I am the best." So saddle up your horses, mules, donkeys, zebras, get on your bicycles, Lear Jets, sailing yachts, tractors, little red wagons, or whatever, but however you travel, do get yourself in motion soon and on your way to la Selle, as it is there that you can relieve yourself of all your worldly worries, and enjoy a timeless moment in the good company and care of Mr Alain Robin. And I hope to see you there soon, as I will also surely be going back to further dig and drink in that gold mine. It could be the best bar in the world, bar none.
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23 comments:

Gary said...

Wow!!! So many amazing photos in one place!!! Beyond impossible to choose a favorite, but the clock definitely made an impression on me. Thanks for sharing!

The Sagittarian said...

Fabulous, I love places like that....I just got here so hopefully you still have enough change in your pocket to stand me a pint? I have to say that the thought crossed my mind "imagine cleaning that lot up after an earthquake!"....and I saw Che Guevara lurking there too, couldn't see if any Kiwi's had planted anything in the pub so maybe that should be my next mission!

James said...

What cool place! I love those old signs! Alain seems line great guy!:)

Bienvenue chez French Girl in Seattle... said...

"Aller a la selle"-- Ah Owen, you crack me up. I could not wait to find out where you were going with that post title after I read it ;-) What a find that place was. Great signs ( and I love all signs and blog about them on occasion.) Great blogging material. Veronique aka French Girl in Seattle

louciao said...

I used to have a similar Frank Zappa poster. It was referred to as the Zappa Krappa.

Elisa said...

Oops, what a place! Intimate and yet so - how to say it - universal - the same time. Easy to believe that there thrives. The only thing that stung my eye, have those skeletons: (

Steve said...

Now these are what I call high class dives. Frank Zappa on the toilet. I'd drink to that!

louciao said...

Pardon my absinthe. I was just writing my comment while waiting at the bar for my drink when I heard the soundless bonging of a nameless hour from the handless clock around the corner and I must have slipped into an alternate unreality, filled with all sorts of barely describable unmemorabilia (ie. unmentionable memorabilia), such as toilets and skeletons and hirsute men in the process of doing their business; to say nothing of drinking mementoes and slipped disks, mouldering books and worm-nibbled posters. I felt all flushed and as if I'd fallen down a dark, dank hole of some sort. Then faintly in the distance, wafting towards me like a sullen stink, I vaguely heard my name being called in foreign voices, one sounding American with a slight froggish tone and the other with the green bite of the kiwi fruit to it. And suddenly, here I am, in the midst of what must be a hoarder's wet dream bar. If you don't mind, I'll just settle in here on this cool leatherette banquette without thinking twice about it, wipe myself down with one of these conveniently placed towels, and wait for someone to bring me a pint of Guiness, s'il vous plaît.

Stickup Artist said...

What an amazing place! My favorites are the skull mug and the picture frames made out of random bits and pieces of found wood. I always wonder how people find and collect soooo much cool stuff. I'm sure it takes a lot of effort and is a labor of love. And I would surely love to hear one or two of those mementos tell their stories of how they came to rest in this place. Happy Trails!!!

Roxana said...

i am fascinated by such places which are not uncommon in the "west", because you can never ever find something remotely similar in my country. and while i chuckled at the skull, of course of course, i was very grateful for the French lesson, an expression that i hadn't been aware of!!! :-)

Margaret Pangert said...

Holy cow, Owen! You could spend hours just browsing here! There's an American tv program called American Pickers--about two guys scouring eclectic collections from diverse parts of this country for bargains. They would love La Selle Pub! However, I don't think that owner is willing to part with any of his treasures! Interestng how he has displayed both a saddle and a toilet poster!

mythopolis said...

These photos are awesome. Yet, bars to me, seem not so much about some time forgotten, but where one goes to forget time.

K'line Bloom said...

Les pubs authentiques ont toujours une âme et des tas d'histoire à nous raconter. Et ce n'est pas moi qui dirait le contraire, je suis née le jour de la St Patrick !!! ;)
ps: pas fée verte pour rien...;)
Bises Owen - pour me ce sera une bolée de cidre brut...:)

Dee Newman said...

Great post! Wonderful photos!

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Not that generous, considering he got such amazing free publicity in return!

But what a splendid find! How do you keep pulling these rabbits out of hats Mr Toad?

K'line Bloom said...

Rien que de penser à ma bolée de cidre, j'en perds mon français ! ;))

@eloh said...

This is great.... reminds me of my younger days, discovering those wonderful museum bars.

Linda said...

Looks like my house. Ha.

Springman said...

If I ever write a novel, I would want to write it at the la Selle Pub. Talk about food for the imagination!I think sometimes you challenge us to much with these monster posts! I may need more random access memory to continue reading your blog.
Ok I'll pick a favorite...
The one with the little balloonist with the pencil drawing of the lady in the background really caught my eye. It kind of spooked me!
Cheers to you Sir!
"To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.”
Thomas Alva Edison

Owen said...

Once again, warmest thanks to one and all, vacation activities are leaving precious little time for blogging, let alone answering, but come on over, it's an open bar tonight ! See you at la Selle !

Lady Mondegreen's Secret Garden said...

Golly, what a collection. Fantastic photos of all the stuff!Very inspirational too, considering the plethora of stuff I have been uncovering lately. Could I pull something like this off, you have me asking myself.

Lydia said...

What an absolute feast for the eyes, Owen. What a find this place is, and the proprietor is grand. I am sure you are right that it may be the best bar in the world. What could top this one?

nathalie, avignon said...

Sorry I'm getting here late Owen - somehow my summer activities don't leave much time for visiting blogs, even those I like best. This post is a real fun one and I can imagine you getting carried away with the place. I'm a bit dubious about the good taste of the certificate delivered to you but it sure demonstrates a great sense of humour. I can imagine many a sailor spending wonderful long hours in that pub waiting for the tide to turn or the weather to improve.
:)))
wonderful photos !!!