Tuesday, 22 September 2009

23. Spring - Fête de Bayonne 2008

I think we'd been in the house for 2 months and we had just about got ourselves straight when our first visitors arrived.. By the end of September 2008, five months later, we'd had 21 visitors - and with Madame's health problems, this is something we won't be repeating - except for very special cases. She only knows one way to entertain and that is to push le bateau out.. She is a truly wonderful cook but for days after each set of visitors had departed, she would be absolutely worn out.. It was too much for her. So as much as we’d like to invite friends down here, I think for Madame’s sake, we’ll have to say come down by all means but we won’t be able to put you up. Which is a great pity but there we are.

We'd heard a lot about the famous Fête de Bayonne from various people.. This is the annual fiesta that takes over the town for 5 days & nights every year at the end of July/beginning of August. Last year, it was calculated that 1.3 million people came and this year was no different. Normally, Bayonne has a population of around 40,000 so you can imagine with well over a million extra visitors that the town was well & truly swamped. Many visitors come from the hinterland of the Basque region itself as the Fête is a celebration of their Basque identity but they also come from further afield. If parking can be problematic at normal times, then during the Fête it's a complete nightmare. In our avenue, people normally park on one side only and there’s usually always a space free.. However, during the Fête, cars were 'creatively' parked on both sides up on the pavement as only the French (and the Neapolitans) can do. This meant that we couldn't go out in the car because if we did, the chances of finding a space upon return would be z-e-r-o. It would be no use us putting the car in our garage as some eejits could always be relied on to block the access to it.
 
The Fête started off at 10pm in the main square in front of the Town Hall.. Fortunately we’d arrived there early and we’d found a shop doorway to stand in (which kept us out of the crush). After a few words from the mayor there was the mother of all firework displays – made up largely of explosive detonations that painfully rattled your chest.. Everyone was in white and red - white trousers, white shirts with a red bandana, and a red sash round the waist. Don’t ask why – it’s just how they do it here. Everyone – but everyone – was dressed the same – they all joined together in a display of pride in their separateness, their Basque identity, their distinctive Basque culture, their Basque music, their Basque dancing and their unique Basque language. Language specialists have no idea where or what the origins of the Basque language are – it’s like no other language in Europe or anywhere else. Here’s an example so you can see how different it is: Zuek egunkariak erosten dizkidazue. This means: “you buy the newspapers for me”. Knowledge of any other European language won't help in decoding this.

The Fête really was a spectacle.. Despite the bars being allowed to serve alcohol till 3am and stay open till 5am.. we didn’t see many drunks.. Many slept in their cars.. and cars were parked everywhere.. The town was full of little bars that people set up, each street seemed to have their own band and it was complete bedlam! The narrow streets were full of Basque marching bands beating out old rhythms with their drums, accompanied by the reedy shrieking of an instrument that sounds like a duck call..

One evening our local butcher (supposedly the best butcher in Bayonne) at the bottom of our avenue organized a dinner in the street.. We had to sign up and pay in advance then just turn up on the night. They’d put tables out in the middle of the road to seat about 100 of us.. The price included the menu, the wine and there was music provided by a small band.. It was supposed to start at 9.30pm but of course it didn’t start until 10pm.. The main course was boned leg of lamb – which was delicieux! Fortunately they came round again with seconds! I think we left about 1am..

They had a pop concert one night at the bull ring (which is about 200 yards away) – which was extremely loud.. They'd spent all afternoon doing imaginative sound checks ("Un, deux.. un, deux..") but as the concert finished about midnight it wasn’t too bad.

We’ve been continuing to tackle all the outstanding jobs – some big, some small – one by one. As the dining room shutters were a bit rotten at the top, we had to have some new ones made by Eric. He’s very, very good and not expensive. He’s got the Basque work ethic too..

He appeared one afternoon at about 1.30 with a stack of planks and by 6.30pm he’d finished. He’d taken all the metal fittings off the old shutters and re-used them where he could. Next day, I had the ladder out and I put on 2 coats of the Basque red that we’re supposed to use. All the woodwork of the houses in the Basque country is painted either blood red, dark blue or dark green. Now and again you’ll see a brown one.

So you can see that life here is all one mad round of fun, washing wine stains out the curtains, putting clean straw down, trips to the bottle bank and re-seeding the lawns after the starlings have been at it – AGAIN!

And now I'm just off to buy the newspapers in Basque.. or maybe not.

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