At Pointe Courte, Sete

15/06/2018 13:28

Pointe Courte – Short Point - is a small fishing village that is almost isolated behind the railway station and the highway link. Facing the great salt pond of Thau it looks like a world aside in Paul Valéry and Georges Brassens birth town.

To get there, walking from downtown, must be crossed a couple of bridges. The first one is a drawbridge with a cast iron structure where the road traffic goes, northward, to the train station and towards Frontignan, or, going southwards, to the land stretch where Sete beaches are located. This bridge was built by the Etablissements Dayde in 1949 in Paris, as can be read on a plate screwed and fixed by rust on one of the arms. Beyond stands the last cross over the Royal Canal, indeed below the railway bridge. From there can be seen the end of the main city waterway and Quai de Mistral along its entire length. In the background stand the two beacons that mark the entrance to the canal. Next to the one on the left is the late 19th century building of the marine biology station.

Already at the Pointe Courte, the first thing found is the blackboard of the only café restaurant in the neighbourhood offering Bouzigues’ oysters, anchovies, sea snails, mussels, cuttlefish and other delicacies extracted from the sea.

The quarter has a triangular shape that recalls the prow of a ship cutting the closed waters of Thau. Originally was formed from the conglomeration of fishermen's sheds that occupied the ground left after the construction of the railway line between Bordeaux and Tarascon, until they were progressively replaced by small single-family homes that were aligned on the few streets that make up the neighbourhood. A neighbourhood that has forged a particular character, someone wrote that if Sète is already singular in itself, the Point is even more so, having the feeling of being away from any town, being in an isolated enclave where boats, rigging and nets are anarchically stacked around the semi-enclosed space of the dam that protects the tiny harbour, a dam that someone has named after the famous Sète singer-songwriter George Brassens. They also say that Pointe Courte smells fish, it must be the smell that attracts cats and gulls, both omnipresent in an environment that Jacky Villacèque, a former Midi Libre journalist, has described: ...on ne traverse pas ces qualques arpents comme on remonte une rue de banlieu. Il y a ici quelque chose de plus épais dans l'atmosphère, quelque chose qui retient la marche, qui interdit la grande enjambée…Atmosphère, atmosphère. (...we do not cross these space as we were walking along a suburban street. There is something thicker in the atmosphere here, something that holds the march, forbidding the long stride... Atmosphere, atmosphere.) And it is also noticeable in a particular sense of humour that is exhibited in some posters set up beside the doors: interdit aux chiants, autenthique pointu - forbidden to boring or truly local resident -, or maybe the best: En cas d’absence je ne suis pas là, si vous n’êts pas là non plus il n’y a personne! (In case of absence I’m not there, if you are not there either it means there’s no one here!

Pointe Courte is faced by the Pointe Longue, which seems a reflection, although less compact, split by the Canal Royale, the main Sète waterway that connects Etang de Thau with Mediterranean waters, where between late June to early September, particularly on Saint Louis festivities, are run the traditional boat jousts. In September comes bream fishing season when hundreds of fishermen mostly from outside come here, they line up on both sides of the canal entrance waiting for the fish leaving the waters of the Étang de Thau going to open sea. In fact, for that reason, the pier that runs along the channel along the Pointe Longue is called Quai de la Dorade.

The triangle shaped neighbourhood is traversed longitudinally by five streets, which at its ends they are Mistral quay to the west, and the walk of Louis Valley dit le Mouton where the breakwater stands. Between both are rue du Président Carnot, dedicated to Marie François Sadi Carnot, an engineer born in Limoges in 1837 who was minister of public works, finance and even reached the presidency of the Third Republic between 1887 and 1894. He died murdered in Lyon by Sante Caserio, an Italian anarchist. The next and central one is rue de Louis Roustan, followed by rue de la Petanque, which is complemented by the Allée du Jeu de Boules. Transversal crossings are dedicated to professions: Barriers, Rameurs, Pecheurs - steersmen, rowers, fishermen - and the Jouteurs who participate in the jousts. One of the lanes is named after the film director Agnès Varda. The French filmmaker, precursor of the Nouvelle Vague, filmed here in 1954 the film that was titled with the name of the neighbourhood, La Pointe Courte, in which she analysed the return of a man and the reunion with his wife, starring Philippe Noiret and Sylvia Monfort. In an interview with the newspaper Liberation Varda explained that she was fascinated by the lumière écrasante  de ce quartier insolite, the overwhelming light of this unusual neighbourhood.

© J.L.Nicolas


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