Wednesday, 30 March 2011

135. Monopoly money at Saint Jean de Luz

29th March 2011. We drove down to St Jean de Luz this afternoon for a quick chat with our new account manager at the bank. After running through all the details of our account we then talked about the cost of living down here. One of the major problems here for young people is that there's a mismatch between the salaries they earn and the ever-increasing cost of property. And renting is an expensive proposition here too. If that southern extension (from Tours to the Spanish border) of the special TGV track is finished as planned by 2020, it will open up the Pays Basque to a whole new group of people who could live here and commute daily to Bordeaux and beyond. And just as the locals have scraped together enough for a house, the prices will take another hike up and away from them. It's a hard world. Young Basques are forced to look further and further inland as the price of property on the coast soars out of reach. From a brief look at a few estate agents today, I would say that houses on the coast below 600,000€ are still few and far between. You can find them for less but, as always, there's a reason.
Saint Jean de Luz
Afterwards, we walked through town and looked in at a couple of galleries. One, on the Boulevard Thiers, usually has a good selection of paintings of the region by Ramiro Arrue and today was no exception. There was one we both liked very much by another Basque artist whose name escapes us both..      

Fed up with the daily grind..? Tired of the "same old same old" at work..? Life lost its sparkle..? Ready for a new challenge..? Want to escape permanently from mindless "Go Compare" ads..? Are you all Royal Weddinged out..? I think this could be just what you're looking for - stay with it right to the end:


31st March 2011. Looked at the £/€ exchange rate lately? Ouch! The pound is lurking down at around 1.13€ this morning - but remember, this is the inter-bank rate - I'll be lucky to exchange at 1.11€. Not to worry though - as soon as I'm up, I'll be moving amongst you all jangling the loose change in my pocket, with an impoverished yet curiously expectant look on my face. Don't feel embarrassed - just give generously! Sounds like we're going to be back on the gruel diet!

Saturday, 26 March 2011

134. Where's my pith helmet?

26th March 2011. We're getting there..! For the first time this year, yesterday evening we sat outside on the terrace - around 7pm - for a few hands of rummy with an apéro! And it's lunch outside today as well.. However, my Google weather forecast for Bayonne insists we're in for rain for the next 4 days..

I was surprised to see a good turnout at the club this morning.. I thought there might have been a mass exodus over the border to watch the derby game.. (Bayonne v Biarritz) Down at the river, I stroked a coxed quad sculler and we did 12km. (Running total: 534km)
video
After being written off by the pundits, commentators, the press and Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all, the dark blues of Oxford had a great row to win the University Boat Race by more than 4 lengths with a compelling display of power, determination and sheer will to win after last year's defeat. Well done!

Just checked the French rugby scores and it's all bad news from San Sebastian. Biarritz hammered Bayonne 40-10. They won't be dancing in the streets of Bayonne tonight..

So - in the interests of cheering up the Bayonne supporters - here's a George Dubya quote for you..
There.. now that feels better already doesn't it..?

Friday, 25 March 2011

133. Plancha time again!

26th March 2011. Watching the news over the last few days reminded me of my previous life. When long-simmering tensions in the Balkans finally erupted into what turned out to be a very nasty little civil war in the 90s, various governments around the world decided that enough was enough and your correspondent was despatched to foreign climes to convert jet fuel into noise - come rain or shine, night & day, 7 days a week, month after excruciating month and year upon year. Watching a similar scenario unfolding today, I ask myself - do I miss it? (I might have given you a clue there!) 

Once again, we seem to be heading for another full-blown 37 carat tangled mess. Having started the No Fly Zone, I ask myself what event(s) will cause the politicians to decide that an "end state" has been reached. What is the end state? If it's hoped that operating a No Fly Zone will cause Col. Gaddafi to up sticks and head for foreign parts without there being any need for boots on the ground, then I think that those who decide such weighty matters are sadly mistaken. Let's hope I'm to be proved wrong.

Back to happier thoughts - the temperatures are on the upward march.. it's forecast to be around 20°C this weekend. The plancha is sitting there in the garage winking at me each time I walk past it..

Here's an idea..
Now for all those out there who swear by their BBQs... let's see you try this!

Or even this bijou snackette.. (a far cry from burnt sausages!)
Bon app!

With the death of Elizabeth Taylor, I wonder how many real stars are left?

Thursday, 24 March 2011

132. Rowing

24th March 2011. If rowing 'floats your boat', then don't forget to switch on your TV on Saturday in time for the annual Oxford - Cambridge University boat race on the Thames. It starts at 5pm (British Summer Time); 6pm (French time) but check the times for wherever you are. This first clip will give you a flavour of what it's all about..
Last year's race was a real nerve-jangler:


This next clip will give you an idea of the intensive training that this year's rowers will have endured prior to the big race on Saturday:

Hard to believe now but I once raced in an VIII over the same 4¼ mile (6.8km) course (but run in the opposite direction) on the river Thames during the London Head of the River Race in the 60s.. (and you're right, that's a worryingly long time ago!) This picture (with around 30 VIIIs in view) only hints at what 400+ VIIIs look like out on the river - you need a sharp cox at moments like this:
Just some of the VIIIs on the water at the London Head of the River Race
When I did the event, I think we started 147th and finished somewhere around 120th out of 200-odd VIIIs. Looking at the link above, it appears that 405 VIIIs are entered for this year's race.  Here's a view of the London 'Head' as seen by a French club and yes, the river can get quite choppy..

Who will I be supporting this year? The same as I've always done ever since I can remember - Oxford. Why? No idea!

While we're on sporting matters, Formula 1 chief Bernie Ecclestone says there is growing support for using sprinkler systems to wet F1 tracks in order to make races more entertaining.

I think he's completely off his head and retirement to a bus shelter on the sea front in Eastbourne surely beckons for him. Sat there with his Thermos flask of tea he could shout at passing traffic to his heart's content.

Finally, a very pleasant outing this evening in a double sculler with Y, one of the nenettes at the club! She's been rowing since last July and has made astonishing progress. She stroked the boat this evening with metronomic regularity leaving me to look after the steering..! We had one or two close shaves with the greenery but all in all, a very enjoyable outing. Did 12km. (Running total: 522km)
The inspirational figure of Perle Bouge (coverage starts at 0:32) was out on the river too in her single sculling boat this evening. She's a handicapped sculler and she won a Silver Medal in the Mixed Double Sculls at the recent World Championships in New Zealand. I heard for the first time this evening that she's only been rowing for a year!

25th March 2011. Tomorrow sees the big - no, let's make that the h-u-g-e local derby between Biarritz and Bayonne. It's taking place on "the other side" (ie, in Spain) at the 30,000 seater Anoeta stadium in San Sebastian. (More here in French and English) San Sebastian will be lively tomorrow evening!

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

131. The Basque beret

22nd March 2011. Another potent symbol of the Basque identity - perhaps second only to the Basque language - is the Basque beret. Totally different to the snug fitting military berets seen elsewhere, the Basque beret has an 'overhang' all the way around which provides a measure of protection against the sun and the rain - both of which are common in these parts. And for what is a simple item of headgear, it has many ways of being worn:
No two the same..!
Madame has been fighting a losing battle trying to persuade me to have one.. In my opinion, the Basque beret is for Basques - and Basques only. Here's a nice clip that explains much about the Basque beret - who wore them, how they are worn, how they are made etc..

And they get everywhere too - that chap on the right (below) looks like he's wearing one (hold on tight before clicking on the image!):  
This Citroën advert always makes me smile..! But - swipez-moi - is this how we sound to those of the Gallic persuasion?
video
Down to the river this evening under threatening skies.. there were some very dark clouds over the mountains but I thought we might escape the rain. Went out in a coxless quad sculler (no names, no pack drill!) and we set off. It was also the stroke's first outing in the stroke seat which, in that boat, was the one that coupled up to the rudder for steering. We decided it would be a good idea to steer via the oars - using simple commands like "Force Tribord" or "Force Babord" to be called by the person sitting in the bow seat. I won't go into the detail of what happened except to say that the person calling out for more effort on one side or the other did not understand the mechanics of how a boat is steered (despite the three of us explaining how it works in words of one syllable or less) with the result that, due to the wrong call being made, we spent quite a bit of time inspecting various trees and bushes at very close quarters! In fact, we gave up using such esoteric terms as Tribord (starboard) or Babord (port) and reverted to simpler commands like Force Rouge (red being the coloured bands painted on the port riggers) or Force Vert (green for starboard). In the end, we even gave that up and just used Force Gauche (left) or Force Droit (right) but amazingly that proved too complicated as well. And while all this was going on, the rain was coming down in sheets. I kept telling myself I was enjoying it! So I think, given that background, we can be proud of the fact that we managed to row 10kms (after a fashion). Running total: 510km.
That whisky and water tasted so good after my shower!

Saturday, 19 March 2011

130. Jambon de Bayonne

18th March 2011. It's taken me 130 posts to get around to this..! Shame on me. Question of the Day.. What is Bayonne justifiably famous for..? (apart from the bayonet) Yes - Jambon de Bayonne or Bayonne ham!
video
As you know by now, where there's a food speciality in France, there's a Confrérie and, this being the Pays Basque, that means a song!
This next clip looks like it was filmed at the annual Foire du Jambon de Bayonne. In my view, while I do eat it, I always find it a bit too thick for me as it is normally sliced by hand in the manner shown at 1:07:
In Italy, the prosciutto is sliced paper-thin on a machine such that it melts in the mouth. If only I could find someone to slice jambon de Bayonne wafer thin for me.

Jambon de Bayonne
There's an interesting programme here about the hams from France, Italy and Spain. Apparently pigs reared as far north as Poitiers can be used to make jambon de Bayonne. There's a brand "Aoste" which many people assume to be prosciutto from Italy but is actually made in France.


I encountered Prosciutto San Daniele in northern Italy and they eat it thinly sliced there.. as seen at 3:09 in this clip:
I'm reminded of the time I was in a Waitrose supermarket in England and standing at the delicatessen counter for something I noticed a large San Daniele ham hanging up on the wall with some other hams and salamis. I asked the girl if I could have 300gms of San Daniele ham and she looked at me with eyebrows raised.

"We don't have any of that sir," she said.

I said, "How about some from the ham hanging up behind you?"

She replied, "That's just a hollow plastic model for decoration.."

Aaaaagghh!

And while I remember, I was once at the meat counter in a Morrisons supermarket buying a leg of lamb and I asked the girl where it came from..

She replied, "The fridge.."
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Corsicans have a reputation in France for being somnolent, not too active and overfond of their siesta. The great French comic Fernandel, blessed with an instantly recognisable and naturally funny horse-like face, made fun of them in his song "Le Tango Corse".. (he describes it as "la sieste organisée..")


19th March 2011. Went up the river against a very strong current this morning in a coxed quad sculler of nenettes! We did a very enjoyable 12km (Running total: 500km). I've said it before but it's always a pleasure to row with the fairer sex as they're never slow in getting their oar in!

The rugby.. ah yes.. I did say in an earlier post that the Ireland v England 6 Nations rugby match had the potential to be a

and was it ever..! Ireland comprehensively outplayed Martin Johnson's emerging England team 24-8. England still finished top of the table and it will be a valuable lesson for them. Hopefully!
Scotland beat Italy 21-8 and France restored some pride with a 28-9 victory over Wales. It was odd watching the France-Wales match.. who did I want to win? Well played Ireland!

Now I'm off to watch a compilation DVD of "Go Compare" adverts.. (Is it me or do they drive everyone else barking mad?)

Thursday, 17 March 2011

129. Porcs volants

17th March 2011. Need a laugh this morning? Look no further!
"A survey of British consumers has revealed the ignorance of many people when it comes to butcher's shops, once a part of people's weekly or even daily shop. Not only did some think pig wings existed, nearly two in ten thought tofu ribs were a cut of meat, and a leg of liver was something you could buy. As many as 23 per cent thought a chicken chop or a lamb drumstick was a product they could pick up in a supermarket or a butcher's shop."

And an article to tickle your taste buds.. Did this penultimate paragraph make your mouth water - or is it just me?
"I find it extraordinary that chicken has become a cheap filler on our plates – they were once regarded as a luxury and rarely eaten until fully grown. There is still a culture of eating large birds in France. I have to admit – sheepishly – to making a recent pilgrimage to Lyon to eat the famous Volaille de Bresse Demi-Deuil (138 euros serving two). This is the dish made famous by the late “Mère” Eugenie Brazier at her eponymous restaurant in the city. Black truffles are slipped under the skin; the whole bird is wrapped in muslin (or sometimes cooked in a pig’s bladder), then poached. The breast meat is served first with a cream sauce made with the stock, then the legs are taken away to be roasted and served as the second course."
Madame and I have promised ourselves a Poulet de Bresse one of these days. We much prefer poultry to red meat and a good free range chicken is worth every penny. I don't know what a Poulet de Bresse would cost but I think it would be worth it. These birds are the Rolls-Royce of the chicken world and have had an "Appellation d’origine contrôlée" (AOC) designation since 1957. One of the reasons for their fame - apart from the taste - is that they're red, white and blue: a single red crest, with red wattles; white feathers including the hackles and fine blue feet.
video
I must admit to watching the process of raising the chickens with mixed feelings (urban guilt and a shot of hypocrisy). I think it's a straightforward commercial operation for the farmers and sentiment has no place in the equation for them. I wasn't struck on the recipes at the end either - Madame would do much better.

I forgot to mention that, France being France, where there's a food delicacy, a Confrérie won't be too far behind! As you'll see from this clip, chicken is a serious business in France. As for the judges - as the saying goes, it's a tough job but someone has to do it..
Pencil 10th July 2011 into your diary - there's a Fête du Poulet de Bresse at St Nizier le Bouchoux (map here) where you could eat a poulet de Bresse roasted over a wood fire.

Here's today's free bonus offer! This is one of the best recipes ever for chicken.. Roast chicken with 40 (recipes in English) - 40 (recettes en Français) cloves of garlic. Madame's made it a few times. When the chicken emerges from the oven, because the garlic hasn't been cut, it doesn't have that familiar pungency that causes many Anglo-Saxons to recoil. In France, the chicken is served with a few slices of unbuttered toast on the side. If you take a clove of garlic and squeeze it flat from one end, the garlic comes out like cream which you then spread on your toast. If you are slightly paranoid about garlic, make it for a Friday evening, then you'll have the whole of the weekend to purge yourself! 

I'm reminded that the Poulet Landais is just as good as the Poulet de Bresse.. I must admit that the best chicken I've ever eaten was a free range bird from Les Landes. I'm happy to set the record straight! 


Bon app!

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

128. Water sports

15th March 2011. Down to the river this evening under grey skies and the smell of rain in the air.. Went out in a coxed quad sculler - I was the token 'stroke' bloke and the others were all female ladies of the opposite persuasion. Almost as soon as we were out on the water, the skies darkened and then it started pi**ing down! ("A technical term, m'lud.") We stopped under the motorway bridge 3km out, had a democratic vote and it was decided to return to the clubhouse. We were all completely drenched by the time we got back. After a quick shower and change at home, I was more than usually ready for a wee dram - that whisky & water tasted good! 6km. (Running total: 488km) 

Two more weeks to go then January, February & March (my least favourite time of the year) will be behind us for another year. I was tempted to bring the table out of the garage at lunch time yesterday.. the midday temperatures are warming up nicely. 

Sunday, 13 March 2011

127. Veni, vidi, puni

13th March 2011. It wasn't Marc Lièvremont's finest hour yesterday. Despite the view held by some critics  that he has the best squad of players in the Six Nations, France somehow contrived to lose 22-21 to the Italians in Rome. (I'd argue with the proposition that France has the best players this season - I think the England squad has come on leaps and bounds since last year.) The multi-talented France XV, winners of last year's Grand Slam, were absolutely hammered only last November by the Wallabies 16-59 (still sounds unbelievable doesn't it?) Then, a couple of weeks ago, they were unable to score a try in a real dog-fight of a match against their old foe England and finished well beaten 17-9 (the score could have been much worse). Yesterday, les Bleus managed to excel themselves by achieving what was previously thought unimaginable - losing to Italy. And all this with the same French team who'd hit the heights last season. To be fair to Italy, they've been steadily improving under coach Nick Mallett since they joined in the fun in 2000 and while they've beaten Scotland and Wales, the Azzurri have been threatening to take a major scalp for the last couple of years.

I think the malaise lies with Lièvremont's quirky selections and the fact that, here we are, with the RWC on the horizon and he still doesn't appear to know his best XV. I was surprised (as in astonished) to see Harinordoquy of all people starting the match on the bench. Harinordoquy - the one player who never lets France down! A truly bizarre decision by the manager whose personal motto appears to be: "Veni, vidi, velcro.." (I came, I saw, I stuck around). 
Will the FFR stand by Marc Lièvremont with the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand only 6 months away? Or will they take decisive action and replace him? There's nothing wrong with the players at France's disposal - it's all to do with the selection and the mentality of the players. I think the FFR would be well-advised to let Marc Lièvremont spend more time with his family and bring in Fabien Galthié. As a respected former player and a currrent rugby commentator I'm sure he has his own views on the squad and appointing him now would give him 6 months to rebuild their confidence. It wouldn't be the ideal build-up to a World Cup but what's the alternative? If they stay as they are, France will be in for a torrid time of it in New Zealand come September. 

I think part of the problem stems from their obsession with "French flair" - this desire to play beautiful running rugby from the back, full of slashing moves that involve running the ball from all angles, keeping it alive whenever possible, with the ball being passed at speed by fast running backs. Personally, I'd be delighted if France could re-discover "French Flair" - as long as it's after the RWC in September! Here's a memory-jogging video for you:

Nothing wrong with "French flair" - except that it's a fifteen man game and forwards have their place too. There's an element of national pride involved here too - they wish to play in their own style - a style that owes nothing to Anglo-Saxon realism. For example, they often try to run the ball out of defence when a kick is much the safer option. I know I'm in danger of lurching into cliché here, but in my view (strictly armchair) they should play percentage rugby, ie, what's in front of them and eschew the flashy, high risk moves that look spectacular if they come off but lead nowhere if they fail. Rugby at the highest level is about winning. (just a minute while I adjust my cushions!) As the ever-pragmatic England manager Martin Johnson is fond of reminding his players, "It's not like ice skating - there are no points for artistic impression." I think les Bleus would do well to bear that in mind.

A big match for England this afternoon. Scotland will be looking to do an "Italy" and will be seeking to imposing their traditional hard driving hard rucking style on the game. I'm expecting a bruising encounter with England cranking up the pressure in the second half to win.
 
Sunday 6.15pm.. England beat Scotland 22-16 in what was a hard fought must-win match.  Scotland are always fired up when they play England and today was no different. By contrast, England looked positively somnolent and sluggish from the 'off' - they all looked like they'd had a good lunch - and were unable to impose their game on the Scots who'd raised their game to the point where they could arguably have taken all the points. I thought there was a forward pass in the build up to England's try and also Scotland were unlucky to have John Barclay sin-binned. He'd been getting up the referee's nose with his constant questioning of every decision so he wasn't given much leeway. A question on sin-binning in general - if a player is yellow carded, does the clock timing his 10 minutes absence out of the match stop when play and the match clock is stopped? (as when the ref was himself injured and substituted)
Tom Croft flying in for his try
It was odd watching England today - right from the kick off they played as though the match was going to be a routine win for them. It was anything but. Scotland were noticeably sharper and more aggressive. England needed a leader on the field who would drive them on and get them fired up. With only one game against Ireland in Dublin next week standing between them and a long-awaited Grand Slam, Martin Johnson will rip into them next week during training. I'd like to see more of the 6'7" (200cm) 18 stone (115kg) Matt Banahan in action - he made a mess of poor old Kelly Brown when he came on in the second half in place of Mike Tindall. It'll be a brave man who forecasts the outcome of the Ireland - England game as Ireland will have been taking notes. It has much potential to be a banana skin game!

15th March 2011. France coach Marc Lièvremont has made six changes to his Six Nations squad to face Wales on Saturday. Out go Poitrenaud, Thion, Chabal, Jauzion, Marconnet & Rougerie. Huget will start from the bench. The starting line-up will be Médard, Clerc, Marty, Traille, Palisson, Trinh-Duc, Parra, Harinordoquy, Bonnaire, Dusautoir, Nallet, Pierre, Mas, Servat & Domingo. The Welsh will be fired up for this match as there's an outside chance that they could still win the championship. Expect another dog-fight. The forecast? Too close to call but it could well be a win for the Welsh (not my favourite team by any means but who are a well-deserved second in the Six Nations table). If France were to lose, I think the FFR's hand would be forced with regard to Lièvremont. The knives are being sharpened.

Now in case you're sitting there wondering what all the fuss is about, have a look at this selection of some great tries that have been scored in the Five/Six Nations Rugby tournament over the years..

My clear favourite is that last one scored by Wales.

Friday, 11 March 2011

126. Pasajes San Juan

9th March 2011. Here's one for the next time it all goes quiet in the snug - instead of complaining about estate agents, why not try asking people if they're satisfied with their broadband download speed (yawn!). This suggestion is brought to you straight from the "Dinner Party Guide", Chapter 7 ("When talking flags - sure-fire gambits for re-starting conversations"). The speed of my broadband connection has been on my mind of late -  I've just tried a broadband speed test here and this (above) is what mine is reckoned to be. Is that good, bad or indifferent..? The truth is that I only had a dial-up connection in England and I must have spent hours waiting for web sites to dribble in. It seems the faster our connections are, they are never quite quick enough. Or is that just me?
11th March 2011. We went to Irun in Spain yesterday - just across the border from Hendaye - for some shopping. Spring is in the air and the trees there were starting to show greenery. I wanted to go and look at nearby Pasajes San Juan - which I've wanted to visit for a while - but we didn't have time.
Irun
It's midway between Irun and San Sebastian and it's a quaint fishing village - with just the occasional big ship squeezing past! The fish restaurants there are reputed to be worth trying. Here's a link to some Spanish recipes (this is how Madame often does fish - and not just hake). Here are a couple of spectacular shots of the harbour entrance:
Pasajes San Juan
Pleasant outing on the river yesterday on a warm sunlit evening. Did a quick 10km in a quad sculler that I'm sure had a magnetic attraction to the banks! Say no more..! (Running total: 470km)

Update on supplies of Greek coffee (thought you'd never ask!): Whilst in Cannes, I found a large Arab grocers and looking around in the coffee section, I found 2 tins of Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi Turkish coffee! Bingo! 4€90 for 250gm. Amazon charges four times as much. One of the guys at the rowing club has a friend who regularly visits Athens in connection with his work and he's going to try and find some Charalambous Greek Cypriot coffee for me as well. Now there's only one thing that goes well with this and that's a wee glass of Metaxa 5 star brandy. Maybe followed by another one.

12th March 2011. Out in a coxed quad sculler this morning. The guy who was 'stroke' must have had a new battery in because we raced up to the turnaround in one piece without stopping - turned around, only 2-3 minutes to rest before setting off like the clappers back to the clubhouse.. I've never been back so early! We were the first boat back by a street. 12 km. (Running total: 482km) More rugby this afternoon: Italy-France followed by Wales -Ireland. It's England-Scotland tomorrow afternoon.

PS. Some of you may have noticed that the blog threw a wobbly the other day - my fault. I'd ignored the old axiom: If it ain't broke, don't fix it*. Apart from the slightly new look, I think it's all back as it was - more or less. While I've still got the tools out, let me know if there's anything you'd like to see here and I'll see what I can do.

(*My Dad's version of this was: If it ain't broke, fix it until it is!)

PPS Diesel Price Watch. Diesel was 1.30€/litre in Spain yesterday. That's $6.79/US gallon or £1.12/litre. Ouch!

Saturday, 5 March 2011

125. Thoughts of spring

5th March 2011. This cartoon pretty much sums up my view of January, February and March. It's been a loong ol' winter down here and we were counting the days only yesterday until I can finally drag the plancha and the table & chairs out of the garage to set out on the terrace so we can have lunch outside again.. Warmer weather to me means living outside in shorts and T-shirt. When did I last wear a tie..? I remember putting one around my neck about 2 years ago and there was an embarrassingly long pause while rusty gears somewhere at the back of my head creaked and groaned until slowly the solution to the tie knotting question popped out. And that was after wearing a tie every day for the best part of forty years..

Did 12km today (Running total: 460km) in a coxed quad sculler on a cold morning (4C according to the car). An interesting sortie that included ramming the bank once and getting stuck, and grazing the bank a couple of times. The river is narrow and has lots of bends and I think it was the cox's first attempt at coxing. We normally have an "apero" after the outing on the first Saturday of the month but Bayonne are playing Stade Toulouse who are the current leaders of the French Top 14.. and a lot of the people from the club are going to the match. Because of the demand for tickets, the game is being played at San Sebastian - which is only 45 minutes from here - at a stadium that I was told holds 30,000. The town there should be lively tonight!! 

6th March 2011. I've been wondering whether or not to share this link - a bottomless pit of hits and music stretching back a long ways.. here's one from it that I'd forgotten.. that must have scarred for life a whole generation of young lads in the early 80s!

7th March 2011. While browsing the Daily Telegraph website I found a well-written review of the Pays Basque that sums up many of the reasons we love it here.. Well worth reading.

Looking outside at burning blue cloudless sky, I think we might just have turned the corner in spring at last. The local forecast is for 18C today as well.. Think I'll pull my shorts out of the winter storage and shake the moths off them!

Forget Bananarama.. this is Gordon Lightfoot's classic track - "If You Could Read My Mind": 

Here's a personal favourite - Gordon Lightfoot's "Canadian Railroad Trilogy":

I once rode the "Rocky Mountaineer" from Vancouver to Banff and that trip should be on your "Top 50 things to do before I die" list..  
There was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run

When the wild majestic mountains stood alone against the sun
Long before the white man, and long before the wheel
When the green dark forest was too silent to be real

But time has no beginnings and history has no bounds
As to this verdant country they came from all around
They sailed upon her waterways and they walked her forests tall
Built the mines, the mills and the factories for the good of us all

And when the young man's fancy had turned into his brain
The railroad men grew restless for to hear their hammers ring
Their minds were overflowing with the visions of their day
With many a fortune won and lost and many a debt to pay

For they looked in the future and what did they see?
They saw an iron road running from the sea to the sea
Bringing the goods to a young growing land
All up on the seaboards and into their hands

Look away, said they
Across this mighty land
From the eastern shore
To the western strand

Bring in the workers and bring up the rails
We've gotta lay down the tracks and tear up the trails
Open her heart, let the lifeblood flow
Gotta get on our way 'cause we're moving too slow

Bring in the workers and bring up the rails
We've gotta lay down the tracks and tear up the trails
Open her heart, let the lifeblood flow
Gotta get on our way 'cause we're moving too slow
Get on our way 'cause we're moving too slow

Behind the blue Rockies the sun is declining
The stars they come stealing like the blows of the day
Across the wide prairie our loved ones lie sleeping
Beyond the dark oceans in a place far away

We are the navvies who work on the railway
Swinging our hammers in the bright blazing sun
Living on stew and drinkin' bad whiskey
Bending our backs 'til the long days are done

We are the navvies who work upon the railway
Swinging our hammers in the bright blazing sun
Laying down track, and building the bridges
Bending our backs 'til the railroad is done

So over the mountains and over the plains
Into the muskeg and into the rain
Up the St Lawrence all the way to Gaspé
Swinging our hammers and drawin' our pay

Driving 'em in and tying 'em down
Away to the bunkhouse and into the town
A dollar a day and a place for my head
A drink to the living, a toast to the dead

Oh the song, ah the future has been sung
All the battles have been won
On the mountain tops we stand
All the world at our command
We have opened up the soil
With our teardrops and our toil

Oh there was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run
When the wild majestic mountains stood alone against the sun
Long before the white man, and long before the wheel
When the green dark forest was too silent to be real
When the green dark forest was too silent to be real
And many are the dead men... too silent to be real

Here's a promo film for the Vancouver-Banff train ride:


Finally, for all those who think that stacking logs is just a chore and a fairly mindless activity, take a look at what this Canadian artist does with them:
Now - farewell Canada and back to the Pays Basque! I forgot to mention the result of the Bayonne v Stade Toulouse match last Saturday - shame on me! Here's what happened (Bayonne are in the blue and white):

It's looks like it was an open running passing game - the way they like to play it here - and a look at the Toulouse squad is eye-opening.. see how many current internationals you can spot. In contrast, Bayonne boast just the one international - Huget, the wing who scored the breakaway try.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

124. Guilty as charged

2nd March 2011. My French failed me this morning.. By that I mean my ability to instantly understand what someone has said to me and then to come out with the right (grammatically as well as socially) reply wasn't up to speed.

Here's what happened.. I was walking with the dog in town when a woman d'un certain age passed close by going in the opposite direction and she said to me, "Les chiens sont pour les sentimentaux.." (Dogs are for sentimental people) and then she was gone.

It took me a couple of seconds to realise a. that she'd been talking to me and b. exactly what she'd said. I then spent the next ten minutes mulling over what I could/should/should not have said in English, let alone French. Curious thing to say though - was it a spur-of-the-moment thing or had she just been waiting for the right moment to come out with it? I mentioned it to Madame and she described her exactly to me - apparently she's well-known around town for being two or three prawns short of a paella. In the end, it was just as well I said nothing.

There are several people around town who are "down on their luck" - another way of saying their life choices were bad - and they sit on the ground outside places like the Post Office, the cathedral after the Sunday morning service or Monoprix and they all seem to have large dogs. There's normally an influx of them when there are public holidays or when it's the tourist season. Some are quite aggressive, some have little signs made up with their life stories, some demand you return their "Bonjour" - I do give to charities but I think the first thing they need to do is to stand up. And when I see them smoking then I'm afraid my sympathy is in short supply. There are jobs out there - but they won't find one sat on their backsides. I've very little sympathy - as in none at all - with young people sat on their backsides begging as well.  

Sad scene at the bottom of the avenue this morning - a large skip was parked outside a house where an old gentleman had lived. He always looked like he had a haircut every two years - whether he needed one or not. A few months ago I realised we hadn't seen him for a while and this morning his house was being cleared. I saw his old furniture thick with the dust of years being thrown unceremoniously into the skip by 3 blokes in those white overalls that police wear at crime scenes.

But - back to the lady's comment - yes, I probably am sentimental as far as the dog is concerned. Why have one if you're not?

Now here's a 13 year old I could listen to all day:



Gypsy jazz guitarist Dorado Schmitt (in the centre above) is no mean violinist himself.. here he is with an unnamed piece: