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"|
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.|
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).|
|"La B" (?) and its alluring female figures.|
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!