Snapshot: 24 Hours in Angers

David Brendan Hall dives in to the cultural details of Austin's sister city in France

Did you know Austin has a sister city in France? Most people "Snapshot" spoke with prior to a Euro trip, which included a July 21 stop in Angers – a centuries-old city 90 minutes on the train from Paris in the Pays de la Loire with a metro population of nearly 500,000 – had no clue. On the flipside, many Angevins weren't in on the connection either.

But a few folks in each locale are well aware, many of them working with nonprofit Austin Angers Creative, which facilitates cultural exchange between enterprising types like musicians, chefs, and visual artists.

Still, for anyone who hasn't closely examined both, the pairing might feel confusing; yes, we both massively support the arts, have largely college-age populations, and sport strikingly similar city-center rivers/ample green spaces, but Angers also has a friggin' medieval castle and cathedral. So, with only 24 hours allotted, "Snapshot" explored Angers to illuminate its exceptional history as well as the cultural elements currently tying it to ATX – an impossible task with only a handful of images, so voilà: See the full gallery.


Pictured: La Maine river, dotted with generally cheerful graffiti, backdropped by Château d'Angers. Originally a 9th century Roman fortress but expanded in the early 13th century, the castle is now open to the public and houses the world's largest medieval tapestry, "The Apocalypse Tapestry." (photos by David Brendan Hall)

La cathédrale Saint-Maurice d'Angers, built between the 11th and 16th centuries, could be visually equated to Austin's Capitol building the way it's situated at the head of a main avenue leading to a bridge crossing the river.

A well-preserved half-timbered house, La Maison d'Adam (l), from the Middle Ages (built around 1500) is a popular tourist attraction and gift shop: "What struck me yesterday when we arrived in Angers was the fact that there were almost no international tourists," said Kas Tuters of Toronto, who coincidentally has a first cousin in Austin. "They were mostly French people. ... We're in such a beautiful, culturally loaded city, undiscovered in terms of widespread tourism."

Meanwhile there are newer joints that represent a sort of contemporary Renaissance, like Dahlia Mahot's vinyl record shop/cafe combo, Exit Music for a Drink, which hosted performances during previous Project ATX6 visits: "Angers has had a rock & roll culture for 20 years," she said. "It's the natural contact that connects Austin and Angers. And like Austin ... today Angers is not the same that it's going be in two years, because things are moving. It's moving because of the people."

In a similar vein, watering hole the Joker's Pub boasts a 200- to 300-person backroom that likewise throws regular popular concerts, including ATX6 shows (they were advertising a Shannon & the Clams gig and Levitation France, both in September, via window posters). "Snapshot" happened to visit during one of the quieter weekends of the year (mid-July is peak vacation time), so no luck with concerts on this visit.

No matter, as there was still a free concert to catch from a brass band from Wigan (incidentally, a UK sister to Angers) across la Maine at tranquil waterside spot Le Héron Carré, an assemblage of old shipping containers converted into a small bar with food vendor and performance spaces. It oozes of Austin's lakeside concert vibes: "In both cities, you can escape from the city in a few minutes to be in a beautiful park," said former Austin Angers Creative Communications Head Emmanuelle Gardan, who visited Austin in 2016 for Angers Week. "Being in Austin is like being in a huge Angers except people are speaking English."

"There's always more to drink: Famous wine bar Le Cercle Rouge closed early this day, but "Snapshot" was able to grab a local craft brew from La Brasserie Angevine's Benoît Durand, who was inspired by the "strict brewing policies" and the live-music-included vibes of the ABGB, which he visited and worked at during Angers Week 2016. As a native of the area, Durand strives to preserve Angers' past with his brews, naming each after a local historical character. IPA-style Curnonsky, for example, is named after a local 1960s character – known around town for sporting a tutu and trumpet – whose grandfather ran a brewery across from the castle.

Chef Pierrick Le Drian likewise worked at ABGB for a day in 2016, basing a creation comprising local ingredients on the spicy veggie pizza pictured above, La Bandita, one of many delicious offerings at his Angers parlor of eight years, Un Brin Folk. Aside from satiating his taste for authentic Mexican food, Le Drian said he took a life lesson from his Austin stay: "In my view ... [Austinites and Angevins] both are passionate and creative, you know? But in 10 years, Austin doubled in size. I think everybody enjoys the way it's going. And Angers ... really needs Austin to learn and to do the same way." Likewise, he encouraged Austinites visiting Angers to preserve their culture with the mantra: "Keep it real, keep it local, and not [move] too fast ... like the French way of life.

And of course, as a native Austinite, nothing made “Snapshot” feel more at home than ending the day with a gorgeous riverside sunset, seen here from the ramparts of the castle. Merci beaucoup, Angers, et à bientôt!

See more at austinchronicle.com/arts/snapshot. Want to pitch an event, happening, idea, or person for "Snapshot"? Email the author/photog: dhall@austinchronicle.com.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Angers, Château d'Angers, Dahlia Mahot, Exit Music for a Drink, Project ATX, La Brasserie Angevine, Benoît Durand, ABGB, Pierrick Le Drian, Un Brin Folk, Saint-Maurice d'Angers, La Maison d'Adam, Kas Tuters, Joker's Pub, Austin Angers Creative, Emmanuelle Gardan, Angers week

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