Margaret and Dick   


September '04: Jousting in Sete

Every year at the fete de St. Louis – ever since 1666 anyhow – Sète has held canal-boat jousting matches.  A city interlaced with working canals, Sète is called the Venice of France.  A canal boat, powered by a dozen or so rowers, is launched towards the opponents' boat.  A jouster with a long metal-pointed lance climbs out onto a long beak on the front of the boat.  Dressed in white, he (guys, of course) carries only a small wooden shield for protection.  Opposing jousters try to knock each other off the boat by catching the shield with their lance. 


Sète’s jousting festival is popular, and thousands of people come from all over the south to see it.  There are grandstand seats, but these are by invitation only.  Between grandstand blocks are small gaps that provide standing room for us ordinary folk, who draw the ire of the seated few if their privileged view is blocked.  “You have a beautiful back,” shouted one grandstand patron, “but get down off that pillar.”  This was repeated time and time again as a succession of viewers climbed on top of a stone post in the standing room area.  Liberté, egalité, fraternité don’t mean much if you are in a grandstand seat. 


The scene was chaos with private boats, rubber rafts, and kids swimming all over the canal in ugh! that water!  The noisy crowd was in a good mood, giving raucous cheers when a jouster was knocked off.  Many jousters stood rock-solid out on the beak, surviving several rounds before falling.  No jouster was hurt by the sharp lances while I watched, even though they wore no protective vest or face mask.  Only hits to the shield are “allowed,” but mistakes do happen.  I later read in the newspaper that they declared two final winners rather than one, rewarding the finalist who got poked in the face with a lance. 


After a half hour of watching, I tired of standing in a packed crowd and called it a day.  It was fun to see it, once.  Photos will do from now on.

P.S. from News of the Weird, December 2004:  In a demonstration against the opening of a McDonald's in Sète, hundreds of protesters, using a homemade catapult, bombarded the restaurant with fresh catches of the area's renowned delicacy, octopus.

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