I just got back from a mini-trip to Sète, one of my favourite towns in France.
As a freelance journalist, you find yourself on at least one mailing list related to every story you’ve ever covered. In addition to ‘Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante au Québec’, ‘UN-NATO Veterans Canada’ ‘SOS Infos Côte d’Ivoire’ and ‘Homosexuels musulmans de France’ I’m also on the mailing list of the Musée internationale des arts modestes’ in Sète. I got an invitation from them, to a ‘collage party’ and thought about it for about a minute.
First of all, Sète is past Montpellier, which makes going there seem like a road trip, an adventure.
Second of all, it’s the hometown and burial place of the legendary Georges Brassens.
Third of all it has a hill, Mont St-Clair, that reminds me of the Plateau Mont royal. It even has a glittering cross on top. though regrettably, no drum circles that I know of.
Fourth of all–and this is my favourite bit– it’s a sea town. You smell the sea air as soon as you step out of the train station. The regional specialty is octopus stew baked in a pie, and the regional sport is some sort of canoe jousting. There are canals everywhere, and a quay where you can catch a ferry all the way across the Mediterranean to Tangier (although of course, it’s not so easy in the other direction). In the late evening when it starts to get dark, even the most boring pharmacy sign or streetlight throws its green or orangish light across the water (silvery-blue) and makes a sort of painting. It’s lovely.
I’ve always been attracted to cities with water. Bizarre, because I’m a mediocre swimmer at best. Apparently people with autism are attracted to water but aren’t necessarily good swimmers…my mom once suggested I was on the spectrum. Maybe that has something to do with it. But anyway, I’ve always loved cities with rivers and sea lookouts. The sea air blows in something new and fresh, stimulating, exciting. Look at Paris with the Seine as its giant aorta. Lyon– which I love, by the way, despite only having spent 24 hours there– has two, the Rhône and the Saone. Ljubljana has the Ljubljanica. St. Petersburg has the Neva and the Gulf of Finland, Peter the Great’s window on the West. Geneva has its beautiful blue lake, and the Rhône too. Bern has the fast-flowing Aare. Bujumbura has Lake Tanganyika, which keeps it from becoming a totally unlivable oven, and provides it with electricity on top of everything. Ottawa has the Rideau River and the Rideau Canal. Chicoutimi has the beautiful Saguenay. Montréal has the massive fleuve St-Laurent, which freezes your bone marrow in the winter (so much that businesses for blocks inland shut up tight for the winter) and stirs up the humidity in summer, with a delicious breeze. All cities on the rise, buzzing, exciting, and enxcited. The water brings in new energy.
Maybe that’s why I am less than impressed with Nimes, all things considered. What have we got? One stagnant canal.