Monday, May 28, 2012

Sunday in Sete


Now, I do love the Côte d'Azur, I do. Or I have come to love it after my dives for the rare pearls of peace and the past. They can be hard to come by. Not so on the wide-open other side of France's Mediterranean coast. If authenticity is what you seek, Sète, a half hour south of Montpellier, is ready for her close-up. But only if you are shooting a documentary because this girl has a day job. A polar anti-thesis to Cannes, it is the second largest port on the French Mediterranean after Marseille, one instigated by Louis XIVths own Colbert. Materials of all sorts are launched across the world and the fish is as fresh as you can dream of (more of that very soon). The Grand Canal winds its way between the Bassin de Thau and the shimmering sea and yet the ambiance entirely lacks the frothy romance to deserve its nickname as "The Venice of Southern France." Locals, of whom I was lucky enough to have one show me the ropes, call it an island but it isn't quite one. Sète is of the in-between in several senses. Prosperous times have been followed by rough economies and then back again. And it shows. This is not a place to come looking for a dream but to wake up (hopefully not in one of the sailor's bars) and realize that you just might love it somehow, despite or because of the rusty iron balconies, the grated plaster, the glint-eyed sea captains that will threaten a punch if you take their photo. But there are also hipster hotels, a contemporary art museum staffed by pouting young folk draped in black, a burgeoning photo festival and one of the world's most beautiful concert venues in a Vauban fort positioned for sunset over the waves. I just want to take my hankie and polish the corners a bit. But Sète might prefer to be left just as it is, to follow the ups and downs of its own tide.



















48 comments:

  1. Super post Heather, beautifully written and lovely pictures. I know Sete very well, I was having lunch on the other side of the Bassin de Thau, in Meze, on Saturday, I am sure you already know along with Bouzigues it's neighbour it's a great place to eat fresh oysters, can't believe we have missed each other by a day and an Étang!
    XXX

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dash, no!!! I think of you as living very far away! To think that we were so close is just so frustrating--and yet I know that we both feasted utterly on the good things from the sea. I have a fantastic address that I will post about soon.

      I really would love to meet you. I could take the train to Montpellier--would that be half way?
      Bisous!

      Delete
  2. Amazing post! Thanks for sharing these beautiful photos Heather, along with an informative look at Sete. I was not aware of this area, but would so enjoy visiting some day. Also, love the "authenticity" that you mentioned, it looks unpolished, yet fascinating.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It really is Laura. It was a great day out all in all. I would happily go back.

      Delete
  3. Oh, and don't forget the beautiful cemetery! My favorite spot in Sete, it is also the final resting place for Paul Valery, poet and singer/songwriter who was born in town. Lovely post, thank you!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Absolutely Liene. It is one of the most beautiful that I have seen anywhere in the world! What an incredible view for a final resting spot.

      Delete
  4. Thank you for taking me back to the area where I spent several weeks every summer during my childhood. My mom's family was based in Meze, the town mentioned by Dash in her commment above. If I am not mistaken, you show a photo of Meze, and the oyster parks (where my grandmother once worked) in your post. We would travel to Sete on a regular basis, but could see the city every day, across from the often unpredictable Etang de Thau (the salt water lagoon,) as we played at the Meze beach. In the summer, Sete and Meze still compete with their fun "Tournoi de Joutes" (Medieval joust tournament-- but held on boats!) Do not miss it if you have not seen it yet! Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lucky you to have spent such time Meze!! And yep, that is it in the seventh photo down. Yum, yum, OYSTERS!!!!! Yep, we saw the jousting boats--that seems crazy!!

      Delete
  5. I have one foot out the door so can only merely glance at this delicious melange of colour - shall pop back in this afternoon for a more leisurely degustation. For it deserves to be savoured! VB x

    ReplyDelete
  6. The turquoise sea is amazing Heather especially the image with a touch of gold. Amazing as your writing. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh my gosh, thank you Natalie!! Any compliments about my photos especially mean so much coming from you.

      Delete
  7. I am struck by all the shades of blue you captured.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The light was so amazing, Judith. There was a lot of dark clouds so that the light would spill through the sides and make the blues glow!

      Delete
  8. Thank you for the introduction to Sete. Did I see grilled sardines on the menu. My favourite. The images are spectacular. You have captured the soul of the city.
    Have a glorious week

    helen xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And to you as well, Helen! Ah, grilled sardines. Aren't they just so wonderful? We used to make them nearly every Wednesday after the market in summer. They cost nothing at all and are so easy. Alas, now that we no longer have a BBQ, we don't make them anymore because I am not about to start frying them inside of our apartment! :O

      Delete
  9. I'd never heard of Sete before reading your beautiful post.
    Wow!
    What a gorgeous place to spend any day...
    Thank you for the introduction.

    xo
    Brooke

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Brooke, I think that you will really like the post that I am going to do soon with all of the architectural details in Sete. It is beyond patina, believe it or not!

      Delete
  10. YOU MADAME H need to meet DASH!!!!!!!!!!!Love her photo!I need a photo...........how do I do that?!
    Beautiful photos of the water!!!!!!!You take me back to the early 1990's........living outside Florence, Italy!we always went to the sea at PUNTA ALA for Holiday at the campgrounds!!!!!!!!!!BAIA VERDE it was called.......my husbands family have been going there for years!You are one lucky gal!Think I have said that before!
    xoxo

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You DO need a photo! Hmm, I think that you just click on your profile and add one.

      And I think that you are lucky too!! To have lived outside of Florence and to have been there with Giampi and his family must have been amazing.

      xoxo right back at ya

      Delete
  11. Once again you nailed it. You put into beautiful words exactly what I felt when I saw and explored Sete. And your photos are fabulous. Hope to see you soon...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow, thanks Jules! Would love to see you too!

      Delete
  12. Weirdly enough (to have spent part of each Summer, for the past 8 years) in Rousillon (Argeles and Perpignan, to be specific), I'd never seen even a glimpse of Sete until this past October...when we were fleeing that flophouse in Carcassonne and before eventually fetching up in Montpelier.

    The "Oyster parks" that "French Girl in Seattle" mentioned were one of the most inexplicable things I've ever seen (in my defense, I should emphasize that we don't really have them in the mountains of East Tennessee, where I'm from). I made Herve pull the car over, so I could take some "The folks back home won't believe this one" pictures.

    I suggested spending the night there, but Herve, in a rare fit of snooty-boots, told me "Basically, Sete is our version of the Redneck Riviera" (for those who don't know, the "Redneck Riviera" is the decidedly un-glamorous, semi-industrial coastline between New Orleans, Louisiana and Pensacola, Florida). Personally?..I figured that would mean there would be a dearth of bourgeoise, fanny-pack-wearing, children-toting, loud, milling, drink-spilling,and generally unpleasant tourists....which would make Sete the exact opposite of over-commercialized Carcassonne (which would make it exactly what I wanted on that particular day).


    Still? We didn't get to stay. I'm going to forward your posting to Herve and flip into my high-manipulative mode...perhaps we can stay there at least one night this coming month. Did I tell you that, just as we're buying and moving into a "new" house here, Herve's also inherited his great-aunt's big, old (a 17th century townhouse mashed up into an 18th century townhouse), quirky house in Argeles? I've visited there several times over the years. We're scheduled to go down and look it over in late June and sign papers (this being France, there will be a LOT (to say the very least) of them; perhaps I can sneak up to Sete while he's signing things for two days).

    thanks for the lovely photographs and obviously successful sell-job on Sete.

    And just to answer the unasked question?....Remi's photograph of the hippos is going to be hung over the Ladies' bathtub in the "new" house. Did I tell you that this 220 year old house was, throughout the 90's transofrmed into a high-end B&B? Consequently (and in complete contrast to most old houses) we have a surfeit of full-bathrooms....5 in all. My mother (who lives our family's very typical, big, 19th century house with its just-two, tiny bathrooms) has asked me "Five bathrooms?...Just how many people do you plan to be washing at any given time?"

    Level Best as ever,

    david Terry
    www.davidterryart.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. David, you always give me so much to respond to that I don't know where to attack first!

      Sete. Yes, you DEFINITELY need to go for at least a day for one reason that even Monsieur Le Snooty Bottes will not argue with: to eat. And I will tell you exactly where to go. You will thank me. Both of you. And you were quite right--I didn't see any obvious tourists at all. Just locals (granted this was not in July or August, apparently quite different). It is quite run-down, it is true though, I have to say.

      I am fascinated by your having two new homes at once! My goodness. I am being too nosy but am curious if you are going to keep the house in Argeles for les vacances or will you rent it out? Poor Herve with the paper-signing, it is enough to scare off save the heartiest, most-determined...

      And finally, the hippos! Above the Ladie's Bath! How very Fantasia. :)
      As Bisous Ours as ever,
      H.

      Delete
  13. Hello Heather:

    Well, we rather like the sound of a 'rough round the edges' Sete. Indeed, this looks to be exactly our kind of place with the dubious looking locals, the peeling plaster and the rusty ironwork. Home from home for us!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Jane and Lance, please see wonderful Virginia's comment below.

      Delete
  14. Back again after a very busy day out, so now I have read the wonderful words which accompany the beautiful pictures.

    I explored this fabulous place many years ago, but had honestly forgotten all about it. How freshly the memories come back to me, now looking at these images! I remember wondering, all those years ago, why it didn't get more recognition because it seemed to me (in a much too brief visit) to be a place of much character as well as beauty.

    And I just have to add : how gorgeous is the comment from Jane & Lance?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There is no limit to my esteem for Jane and Lance. Truly. I often wonder if I should just conscript them to be my ghost-writer as they express what I can only hope to so effortlessly and succinctly. When you come to France perhaps we can spirit away for a weekend to Budapest?!

      As for Sete, it was interesting that our friend felt that the city itself hadn't really changed in the past thirty years. It feels stuck in the post War vibe, like a ship in a bottle.

      PS. Thank you as always for your kind words, friend!

      Delete
  15. Hi Heather! Sète looks beautiful and so different from many of the villages along the coast that look somewhat contrived. Clearly I need to get over there and have a look. I love your photos. The gallery looks especially intriguing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If you do, will you swing by and pick me up to go with you? It is on the way! :) But we will have to pack a picnic lunch because, as you can see, there is nothing but seafood on the menu everywhere you look!

      The gallery was one of the exhibition spaces for the photo festival and it was quite interesting. Here is the link for the festival's site: http://en.imagesingulieres.com/ They are still finding their footing but it has a lot of promise!

      Delete
  16. Dear Jane and Lance.....

    I loved your comment. I wondered at Herve's (my partner, who's French)immediate veto concerning Sete. The town seemed quirky, offbeat, and fun to me...and, yes, "rough around the edges" (just like Memphis and New Orleans, which I've known extremely well since I was 5 or 6 years old).

    I'll admit....my first thought, upon hearing that all-too-quick veto and recalling that Herve has just turned only 40, was "Okay...any ex-boyfriends are liable to still be kicking around".

    And, yes...I asked him "What's the problem...does an ex-boyfriend of yours live here or something?"

    the fact remains that the only towns we've fled over the past eight years were precisely those vaguely-creepy ones which were just.....too manicured and curated....Senlis, Carcassonne (not so much curated as simply disneyfied), and the particularly off-putting Sarlat le Canada. All are wildly endorsed by all American travel-guides.

    None of those towns has visible garbage cans or stray cats or anyone looking even vaguely Algerian (or, for that matter, patently un-chic old ladies in picked polyester, well-below-the-knee skirts, obliviously walking each other to mid-day mass down the exact middle of the street), and the only cars you'll see prowling the tiny streets are Mercedes and similar brands. In my book....that counts as creepy.

    Alll done and said, I need to visit Sete. It sounds refreshing in several ways.

    ----david terry
    www.davidterryart.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Don't forget Loumarin! :) Heeheehee...

      And David, Jane and Lance are true adventurers and some of my very favorite people that I have had the pleasure of "meeting" on the 'internets' (and we plan to meet in person before the end of the year). In case you have never had the pleasure, here is the address of their exceptionally popular blog:
      http://hattatt.blogspot.fr/2012/05/only-connect.html
      As you will see, I am far from alone in my admiration of their many, many outstanding qualities.

      The more that you speak of Sete, the more that I agree that a visit is in order. Yes, rough around the edges but minus the fine music of Memphis (that I sadly don't know) and NOLA (which I do and crazily adore). And I will find the name of the decidedly unflophouse hotel that I spied on the quay for you too...

      -H

      Delete
  17. I've never heard of Sete but it looks beautiful. Love the picture with the blue door. In fact, I'm loving all of these larger size photos.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Liza! As a fellow foodie, I know that you would love it there!

      Delete
  18. Looks like a fascinating place, Heather, with lots of patina and charm. The photos are beautiful. XO

    ReplyDelete
  19. What absolutely stunning photography, Heather, I've sent this post on to my son who went to school at Parson's in Paris. Totally beautiful, and a new place for me to see. I also am enthralled with your writing, my friend. xx's

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh thank you so much Marsha! I am trying to get better with my photography but it is baby steps. Very excited for next week!
      Bisous...

      Delete
  20. Loving the new big picture format!

    ReplyDelete
  21. Loved this humorous take on Sete...I want to go take a look for myself!
    Marsha just mentioned you are on the 'by invitation' group, welcome.
    xD

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for the 'bienvenue'. I am really delighted that she has asked me to participate. I have a wee little blog here! :O

      Delete
  22. Heather love dropping by for my virtual French tour!! Always a surprise, the concert venue sounds superb...just trying to get my head around you with your hankie polishing:)
    Carla x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Heeheehee. And as for the concert venue--when I think that Melody Gardot played there last year and I missed it! If only I had known...

      Delete
  23. Love this post. I feel as if I am there. Lovely images. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Heather, I've been so busy the last few weeks, I haven't had a chance to visit all my friends in the blogosphere. I was so thrilled when I stopped by today to see your new format with the enlarged photos. They look FABULOUS!!! What a gorgeous photographic essay and while I love your writing as well, these pictures tell such an atmospheric story - Sette looks like a must see in my book! Hope all is well!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So good to hear from you Stacey. You HAVE been crazy busy--I am getting worried for you. Please try and take a weekend to relax if you can...
      Bisous...

      Delete
  25. Hello Heather,
    One reason I so enjoy stopping by your blog is that I am exposed to things I don't know about. Love learning about different corners of the world; your words and photographs are superb teachers! Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  26. Heather, this is my first visit to your blog but I will be back. Your writing and photos just glow with spirit! Thanks for sharing your travels. Nancy

    ReplyDelete

Your responses are what makes this blog so special to me. I love hearing from you. Thank you for visiting!

* Comments left on posts two days after publication or more will be published after moderation. So not to worry, they will arrive and again, I appreciate them all so very much...Merci! *

If you prefer, feel free to email me directly at robinsonheather (at) yahoo.com...