Updated and translated from French 17 July 2022 – Original post 11 November 2019
Named the ‘Singular almost-Island’ because of the vast swathes of water surrounding it, Sete has incubated great artists such as Paul Valery, George Brassens, Jean Vilar or Manitas de Plata.
Without forgetting the latest insult of the new generation of “stars” from Demain Nous Appartient – ironically titled ‘Tomorrow is Ours’ – a French soap opera that is increasingly popular with the youth and lobotomised masses still ignorantly hypnotised by their distraction devices and actively destroying their own tomorrow – *sips tisane*.
Aside from the context in which I was spending it, I was lucky to have passed many a sunny school holiday here. Learning to sail on the saltwater etang, appreciating la belle vie in harmony with nature, frolicking in the waves of the Mediterranean sea. Basically making fond childhood memories amongst a stunning backdrop, as kids did before all the screens took over.
Sète has always been a special place, I’m not aware of a single person that knows it and hasn’t fostered a deep love for it. Attractive for the year-round sunshine with a unique and colourful mish-mash of cultures coming together in a quirky symphony under the Mont Saint-Clair.
Understandably then that it’s an increasingly sought-after destination, nicknamed ‘The Venice of Languedoc’ because of the canals that run through the town and its particularly privileged situation on the Cap of the Golfe du Lion. Surrounded by vast stretches of fine, sandy beaches and with many renowned cultural events taking place throughout the year that draw even more great artists and their devoted followers.
Today I’m not here to sell you a desire to visit but to show you another side to the quaint picture-perfect postcard images. A reality that is actually present in most places for those willing to look.
I’m talking about the sad reality of terrible rubbish management. An issue that is only increasing and that most of our tourist destinations and cities are drowning under. This is thanks to our society charging forward in overconsumption and dependence on tat and single-use items, exasperated through the behaviours of inconsiderate companies, inhabitants and visitors.
What is most worrying is that very few of the people living and working in or visiting Sète for its beauty and artistic vibes care for the sheer quantity of waste being produced, thrown and blowing around in the streets, the etang or the sea.
Despite the money rolling in, the education, awareness and communication needed around these issues that threaten our collective well-being are simply not there. Nor does it seem that the authorities, the companies that benefit from the increased footfall or the industries that use the natural resources could give a fuck either, despite the profits they are making from richly exploiting this part of our planet.
It isn’t just a beautiful natural setting, or the charming neighbourhoods that are increasingly ruined to our view, but a very important and already fragile eco-system that is in irreparable danger.
Scores of biodiversity, above and below the surface, much that is endemic and can be found nowhere else depends on the health of these natural spaces to live. Many birds, insects and animals (that are essential to our human well-being) use these lagoons as a vital halt and reproduction space. Not to mention the regulation of temperatures, production of clean air and protection from land erosion and tidal storms that these natural spaces once guaranteed for all.
At first, I felt like I couldn’t just pretend I didn’t see it so wherever I went I was picking up every bit of rubbish I saw, believing that I could potentially make a difference all on my own. Possibly if people saw me doing this and found the places they liked to frequent cleaner than before, then maybe, just maybe they would care more about it all themselves.
We even did a mini clean-up of the area you see in these photos, we were three at first and two passersby spontaneously joined in to help. After hours of wet, back-straining work, we didn’t manage to clear it all but we did take bags-full of rubbish away (even if I’m well aware that there is no real “away”, leaving it there wasn’t a solution and without a better option I did what seemed the best at the time, whatever could be recycled was and the rest sent to be incinerated or buried in landfill depending on how the authorities invested in their twisted “waste management”).
Some of the people I know who couldn’t attend on such short notice were even moved to start picking up trash themselves on their own time. It all felt really positive and like we would be able to get something worthwhile going to implicate the locals and tourists alike.
Unfortunately though, without more long-term caring actions in place and sustained effort and desire to improve our surroundings by all those impacted, without the necessary education and communication on changing terrible consumption habits, it is only a short matter of time before it all becomes trashed again.
Not sure what else I could do, I’d been making noise about it all on social media for a while, quite possibly to the dismay of many following along, I would tag the local authorities and media accounts in pictures of overflowing beachside bins, litter in the allegedly protected dunes and the like.
Hijacking the beautiful hashtags maintained by wanderlusting users, paid influencers and dictated by the region’s tourism boards and their marketing budgets to
brainwash inspire people to come visit and spend their money profusely. I would specifically target the accounts claiming to support “sustainable development” and those responsible for maintaining these so-called “protected natural sites”… It wasn’t long until most of them blocked me.
Apparently, it seems the sick reality of the situation is not to be seen nor addressed within their plans of developing sustainability, as it just doesn’t correspond with the curated esthetics of getting brainwashed innocents to spend their hard-earned money in places that have been completely emptied of their living spirit.
I’ve now moved away from Sète and the blatant push to take progressively more without giving even a fraction of something suitable back to those that have made and make Sète what it is. Many who have called Sete their home for generations are deciding to leave for a whole host of reasons. Even if there are increased charities and associations making progress, more and more people who were born and raised in this place are being priced out, as the gentrification goes.
The authorities invest in projects that make no sense to the inhabitants but that will allow those fat cats to draw in even more money from tourists and industries at their expense. Along with the vast quantities of trash that come along with it all as they hide behind the false promises of “eco-friendly, sustainable development”.
I wonder how many more of our colourful, singular places will be homogenised into a new normal that only loosely disguises the trash-full, vapid money-making machines desirable only to the walking dead amongst us?