In the first part of this travelogue recounting an attempt to visit Gironde’s four cardinal points over the course of a single day, Bor...

The Gironde four corners road-trip > Part 2: south (Captieux and its former brothels)

In the first part of this travelogue recounting an attempt to visit Gironde’s four cardinal points over the course of a single day, Bordeaux 2066’s Vincent and I successfully conquered Le Verdon and its countless memorials, followed by Saint-Avit-Saint-Nazaire and its nothingness. From there we headed to the département’s southernmost point, Captieux.

We arrived in a part of Captieux known as “Le Poteau” at around 4pm, 380 kilometres on from our starting point. Looking south we were gazing into neighbouring département Les Landes. A large milestone was in position at the border between the two administrative areas although Vincent soon spotted an anomaly: beneath the painted inscription correctly identifying the road as being the D932 were traces of the milestone’s previous location on the Nationale 10. Isn’t it great to know that milestones don’t die, they’re just recycled and turn up elsewhere!

"D 932" painted over the section which used to read "Route N 10"
Moving a little northwards along the road, Vincent was determined to check out the remains of Gironde’s southernmost building, to establish whether it could be connected with what is one of the most unusual, surprising and sordid tales to be told: that of the brothels and prostitutes of Captieux.

The story goes back to 1950 when the US military set up an ammunition depot which spread out over no less than 100 square kilometres in the Le Poteau area. The structure remained there until 1967, by which time President De Gaulle had called an end to US military bases in France. But, in the meantime, the substantial presence of military personnel had also resulted in the influx of prostitutes who would operate out of hastily-built brothels along the départementale road.

After the US military departed, the brothels remained, despite having been outlawed by the “Loi Marthe Richard” way earlier, in 1946. Business continued to flourish throughout the 1970s and well into the 1980s, the prostitutes reportedly selling their services to young men seeking their first taste of sexual healing, rugby teams in celebratory mood, travelling salesmen, truck drivers who would engineer a detour through Captieux, and other miscellaneous visitors from all over who knew exactly what they would find in Captieux. There were many shady dealings surrounding this obscure subculture, and it is said that relations between pimps would often turn nasty.

As we are about to find out, this used to be a brothel.
The most astonishing thing is that the authorities turned a blind eye to what was going on, although one reliable source has since told us that Captieux was regarded as a convenient arrangement: “there was an unwritten deal with the Bordeaux milieu: the city itself remained clean and the whores were out there in the country for Sunday night escapades and troisième mi-temps adventures.” (The raucous rugby equivalent of the nineteenth hole!)

That remained the state of affairs until everything came to a head in 1987 with a massive police raid on the area, which resulted in around 100 arrests and the 14 remaining establishments being closed overnight. Many of the makeshift structures were dismantled or more or less disintegrated. Lengthy trials followed and led to even lengthier prison sentences for those judged to have been responsible. Subsequently, Captieux slowly picked itself up and evolved back into being the quiet and peaceful country village it had presumably been until the 1950s!

Back to 2016 though and our roadside ruins! Vincent and I sliced our way through overgrown greenery to the walls of the building, made our way through what appeared to be the main entrance, and came up against what resembled the counter of what must have been a reception area. We were most definitely inside a former brothel. To our left was the door to a room where there were even remains of carpet pasted to the wall. Over to our right was another room which enjoyed the added bonus of an en-suite shower cubicle. We continued exploring but took great care as everywhere we looked there were tiles that hung precariously from what was left of the roof. 
Inside the former brothel, including what we think was the reception area (picture on the left).
Back outside we made our way along the side of the building and inspected the walls. At one end we spotted faded hand-painted depictions of female faces, and letters that appeared to spell out “La B“. Had other letters disappeared completely over time? Were we misreading what we saw and was the establishment either “le Bambi” or “le Bilitis”, both of which are referred to on this page?  With that enigma in mind, we left the brothel behind and drove into Captieux itself, a few kilometres to the north.

"La B" (?) and its alluring female figures.
We stopped off in a café for a refreshing fruit juice, and quizzed the landlord about Captieux’s dark past. He certainly didn’t appear to be too perturbed by our question, which suggested the subject was anything but taboo. The landlord, who emphasized the fact that he only moved to Captieux 15 years ago, in turn asked another customer about his memories of the establishments (the customer recalled there being two to three girls in each brothel) before calling a correspondent to try to find out the name of the mysterious “La B” building we had found ourselves in; he promised to get back to us with the answer. [Much later, a piece in local newspaper Sud Ouest featured pictures of “our” brothel and we were able to establish that its name had in fact been “La Baraque”.]

As we were paying for our drinks, he shared the tale of an acquaintance who, back in the day, was one of a group of youths who didn’t have much money. Every Saturday night, they would each throw some cash into a kitty, and each person’s name would go into a hat. Whoever’s name got pulled out of the hat was treated to a jointly-funded session with one of the Captieux ladies.

And it is with that image in mind that we departed, with one further destination to reach in our four corners challenge: we were aiming for La Salie on the Atlantic coast, Gironde’s westernmost point.

What is there to see at the extreme western point of the Gironde département? Find out in the final episode of this travelogue!

The Invisible Bordeaux/Bordeaux Four Corners roadtrip is also available as a motion picture. Enjoy!

> La version française de ce récit est à retrouver du côté de Bordeaux2066 ! 
> 2019 update: Sud Ouest released a fine long-read feature about Captieux and its brothels (a subscribers-only article available here), which included this incredible eye-witness account of the area as it used to be:

0 commentaires: