25 May 2008

Fishermen on strike!

We left Saint-Aignan about noon last Saturday for a week in a gîte rural — a little vacation rental house — on the Ile d'Oléron. We had never been down there before. Oléron is just south of La Rochelle and Rochefort, and not very far north of Bordeaux, on the French Atlantic coast.

The island is linked to the mainland (le continent) by a high-rise bridge (known on the Ile d'Oléron as le viaduc). It's about a four-hour drive from Saint-Aignan and we left at noon. At 3:30 p.m. we drove through Marennes, the last town on the continent, and were ready to cross the bridge and enjoy being on the island. No such luck.

A plume of black smoke along the highway
leading to the bridge at Oléron

As we drove out of Marennes, traffic came to a halt. We didn't know why, but we saw a huge plume of dark black smoke off in the distance. Was it a fire? An accident of some other kind? Why were cars just inching ahead? Why didn't we see any firetrucks, ambulances, or other emergency vehicles? We turned on the radio, but we couldn't get any news.

This was the traffic back-up caused by a protest
last Saturday at the Ile d'Oléron bridge.

As we sat there in the car for about an hour, wondering what was going on, we would see the plume of smoke thin out and then suddenly thicken up and get blacker and uglier every few minutes. I thought things like tanks of fuel or cans of paint might be exploding in a big fire. Traffic wasn't really moving, and very few cars were passing us heading in the opposite direction, coming off the island.

This was the commercial fishermen's protest banner. It says:
"Fishermen on strike. Fish not expensive. Diesel fuel too expensive."

When we finally had advanced far enough, we found out what the problem was: a protest. We had heard about France's commercial fishermen, les marins-pêcheurs, being on strike. The labor action was just starting late in the week. But on Saturday, a group of fishermen had set up a protest site at the foot of the Oléron bridge. They were stopping cars and letting them through just one at a time, and they had built a big bonfire. They were burning old automobile tires. Every time they threw another tire or two on the fire, the smoke blackened and thickened.

Luckily for us, oysters and clams
were still available at markets on the island.

We finally arrived at our rental house about 5:00 p.m., an hour later than we thought. For the whole week we were on the island, the fishing harbors were closed. There was no fish available for sale in the supermarkets or at outdoor markets. For the entire week, we didn't try to leave the island because the demonstration and big traffic back-up continued (but that was okay with us).

French fishermen were protesting the high price of the diesel fuel they need to run their boats. The boats stayed in port all week. The only seafood available was the stuff that is not fished out of the open sea, since boats couldn't go out. No fin fish, no shrimp. We had to make do with oysters and clams. Poor us.

1 comment:

  1. i remember visiting santorini island years ago and wondering where the seafood was.
    athens, they said.
    where are the blue monkey mosaics from the ancient town preserved in lava like pompeii?
    athens, they said.
    it was gorgeous anyway. i ate tomatoes and cheese. and the beaches etc were fab.
    i hope you all had a good time in spite of no fish.


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