Thursday, 25 August 2011

163. Comment Faire La Bise pour les Nuls

22nd August 2011. Just the other day it struck me that I've been remiss in neglecting to write about the subject of today's post. As the saying has it, I'd been ignoring the "elephant in the room". I'm referring of course to the widespread social practice in France of kissing family, friends and acquaintances. Growing up in England, I was aware that us Rosbifs were considered cold and reserved by our more excitable and more tactile Latin neighbours.

Cold and reserved..? Us..? Never! OK, in the 50s, 60s and 70s, we didn't go in for much in the way of Public Displays of Affection (known in social code as PDA) - such as kissing, hugging or even handshaking - we just said hello and got on with it. Madame once asked me when my father stopped kissing me. I'm not sure exactly when that would have been but I think it would probably have been around when I was 10 or thereabouts - but I never had the sense as a child that I was being deprived of affection in any way - it's just that affection there was expressed in different ways. Nowadays, the pendulum has swung the other way and we've all become visibly far more demonstrative. I think the switch to more overt displays of affection started sometime in the 80s.
Mitterand and Kohl on their first date..
The rot started to set in with this completely ridiculous picture of two grown men holding hands.. who also just happened to be the French president and the West German chancellor. Someone should have told them..

No tongues please!
People suddenly started kissing each other. Women kissed women. Women kissed men. Men kissed women. However, men sensibly drew the line at kissing each other, apart from in Eastern Europe where we had to accustom ourselves - often during mealtimes - to the sight of Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker (right) getting down and dirty. I always used to shout at the TV, "Erich! He won't write - they're all the same..!"

It became a ritual for the TV news to show excited schoolchildren (mainly girls I have to say!) hugging each other and squealing with delight at the results of their summer exams. Politicians weren't slow in getting in on the act either. The sight of politicians hugging each other with the obligatory single or double pat on the back quickly became the norm and is now a familiar staple of the news. Clinton has much to answer for!

In France, it's usual to faire la bise with friends and acquaintances. This kissing is purely meant as a social ice-breaker - and nothing else should be understood or implied from it. In my view it works very well. At the rowing club, the first few minutes are taken up with multiple bisous for the nenettes and handshakes for the mecs. The process does seem to unite us all in some subliminal way. By the way, it's not good form to faire la bise whilst wearing ordinary specs or sunglasses - they should be removed prior to swooping in - otherwise you run the risk of getting tangled up in earrings or the kissee's specs. There's a lot to be said for being approached by an attractive woman presenting herself expecting to be kissed (there I go again!). I think many Brits find this awkward - possibly due to their traditional non-tactile background - and they find it hard to distinguish between social kissing and kissing of a more intimate nature.

Physical contact is something we just weren't used to. For example, I once worked in an multinational organisation overseas with a dozen or so different nationalities (European and N American). One of my bosses was Italian and one day while walking down a long corridor there he linked arms with me..! I wasn't ready for that one (not sure if I'm ready now!) And it was all I could when talking to the southern Europeans not to noticeably flinch if they put a friendly hand on my forearm to emphasise a point. I think I have relaxed more now though with this aspect of life. This reluctance to engage in physical contact (of a social kind) in England would often manifest itself in the way some women there would present themselves for a bise - they would turn their face away almost to the point where their chins would be over their shoulder thus closing the door firmly to any attempt at a cheap freebie! I suspect that this was as a result of too many male Brits overstepping the mark perhaps and taking advantage..  

Kissing for Dummies
So, what's the approved method? Here's my guide: Comment Faire La Bise pour les Nuls (How to kiss for Dummies). It goes without saying that if you are going to enter someone's personal space for a bise then you should be clean, stubble-free and fresh mouthed. Next, either lean forward for a hands-free encounter or place your hands lightly on her upper arms making it clear which side you intend to deliver the first bise on. Now zoom in for a bise on their left cheek first and before swapping sides to finish with a flourish on their right cheek. The actual impact area should be well away from the kissee's mouth.

The bise can be delivered with either no mouth-to-cheek contact (rarely seen here) or with the very side of the mouth - never a full-on drain cleaner..! At no point do I ever utter a low moan of pleasure (although I might think it..!) (joke!) or worse, much worse, an air kiss accompanied by a "Mwaah!" This - the absolute naffest of audible accompaniments - personally makes me want to heave and is to be avoided at all costs. It became quite prevalent in England in latter years as we slowly adopted some of our European neighbours' conventions - or our version thereof! I'm told that in England men will sometimes get their targeting solution wrong and end up with a 'accidental' lip-to-lip contact. Any self-respecting gentleman would avoid a cheap attempt at a freebie like this at all costs.. unless it was really worth it!and even then never!

The next question is how many.. In England, the single peck on the cheek is probably the most common version and is the safest. Two is enough to get your card marked as a lounge lizard.. I've never experienced more than two bises in England. 

Cross the Channel, however, and it's a different story - the absolute minimum is two. I think many would be insulted if a single bise was all that was on offer. While two seems to be the acceptable number here in the south west, I know that in Paris that four - yes, you heard, four - is the going rate! Taking your leave from a dinner party at the end of the evening can and does take some time. 

As an example of British (Scottish) reticence when it comes to physical contact, here's a clip from only a couple of years ago of President Barack Obama and the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown entering 10 Downing Street. 
You have to ask yourself - why couldn't Brown just shake the policeman's hand in the same relaxed manner as Obama did? How uptight can you be..? As Madame once observed about someone: "If you put 3 olives between the cheeks of his a**, you'd get a litre of oil..!" (One of her classics!)

Another of those songs that I've always liked. It popped up the other day on the radio and I made a mental note to try and remember to download it..
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27th August 2011. Nice outing this morning in a mixed VIII - did 14km (including an unforecast drenching). Running total 943km).

28th August 2011. Made a dirty dart across the border into Spain this morning to top up with some vital supplies (Ricard, whisky, sangria and diesel). Diesel in Spain is presently 1.22€/litre - which works out at £1.08/litre or $6.68/US gallon. As a comparison, here are the average prices in the UK and the US. Now, I don't want to hear a squeak from any Americans please!

30th August 2011. Time to finish up this post with some great old tracks from Dire Straits and a couple from Pink Floyd.. The first one from Dire Straits has a real Cajun feel to it:
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Tuesday, 16 August 2011

162. The archetypal Basque village

13th August 2011. Another 'Bismarck' moment down on the river this morning as we had a coming together with a submerged log or something similar that wiped the rudder of our VIII clean off. We turned around and returned as it would have been impractical to continue along the winding Nive with little or no control over the steering. Did 9km in the end. (Running total: 915km) 

16th August 2011. Yesterday was Assumption - a public holiday here in secular France! To be honest, I had to ask Madame what Assumption is all about and the link above explains all. This event seemed to have slipped by me when I attended (as in 'slept through') my CoE Sunday school a few centuries ago. Needless to say, many if not all local shops were closed. In the Pays Basque, this holiday seems to have more significance than 14th July, France's national day.
We'd booked a table at our favourite restaurant in our 'old village' - the one we returned to every summer for years. This was the scene outside the restaurant  as a local band took up residence!



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The village - Ascain if you must know! - was in full Fête mode with the road through the village being blocked off and the regional heats for the National Creative Car Parking Championships in full swing!☺
Fronton, Ascain
There were strolling bands in the streets and the fronton was surrounded by a 6 deep crowd watching a bare-handed version of Pelote Basque.
La Rhune as seen from Ascain
Ascain lies at the foot of La Rhune, the Sphinx-like sleeping giant of a mountain (a smidgen under 3,000ft high) that looks out over the Pays Basque. The other day there was a foot-race from Ascain up to the summit - and back.. (ouch!) The winner crossed the line in a staggering 63 minutes! A 73 year old veteran also completed the run!

This clip gives you the view of La Rhune as seen from a microlight before swooping down over Ascain. The restaurant can be seen just on the right hand side of the church that dominates the village.
Some more pictures for you of this most beautiful of Basque villages:



We loved this village from the first time we found it and these were the images (Flickr slideshow here) that sustained us through many a long cold winter in England - and when we returned each year, it was like coming home. The village is situated on the Nivelle right at the point where the coastal plain stops and the Pyrenees start.. 

When we first stayed at the small hotel/restaurant there, it was managed by the parents of the current owner - his father - M'sieur L - was the chef while Madame L looked after 'front of house'. 
Typical Basque house
We'd return at around 6pm from wherever we'd been and feeling fresh after a shave and a shower to wash away all the salt, sand and sun cream, I'd wander downstairs to take a seat under the platanes. This was the highlight of the day for me - a clean shirt, and with the temperature starting to cool a couple of degrees after the heat of the day. Madame L would bring out a drink and a small earthenware pot of nibbles for me from the small bar and then she'd stand next to me - she'd never sit - and we'd talk while French families squinted at the menu board outside - serious business! Madame L was always 'impecc' as they say here - she was always elegant, bien coiffé and her back would be ramrod straight. With Olympian self-control, she never showed a sign that I was mangling the French language as I surely must have been back then. She'd been brought up near Oradour-sur-Glane, a name that, even today, still resonates with many. When she found out that I was in the RAF I could do no wrong.. and she and her husband treated us like family. Under her watchful eye, the hotel and the restaurant ran like clockwork.

Had lunch out on the terrace today which is shaded until about 2pm. Afterwards, I brewed up a Turkish coffee and lit a wee cigarillo. The heat was fully on today - think the forecast is for 26 but it feels hotter - and it lay upon us like a warm, damp blanket. All that could be heard was the distant roar of the traffic and nearer to home, the buzzing of bees as they worked their way around the garden while I watched the blue tendrils of smoke rising up on an absolutely still day.

17th August 2011. The 2011 Rugby World Cup approaches. Can anyone see a repeat of this scoreline..?

Nice programme on France 3 this evening - Des Racines et des Ailes - it featured Guadeloupe (which I missed) and the Pyrenees.. Some spectacular photography. Not sure if the link will work outside France though.

18th August 2011. If one glass is good... then surely two glasses is better.. non? (Good try!)

20th August 2011. A hot & humid row on the river this morning - did 14km in an VIII. (Running total: 929km). Went for a walk in Biarritz this evening to cool off - trouble was, at 10pm it was still 32C! It did feel a bit odd to be walking around in the dark with the temps up there..

21st August 2011. Thought I'd take some heavy wooden shutters down this morning and paint them (Rouge Basque - what else!) in the relative cool of the garage. Just finished and looking at our thermometer which is in the shade, it's already 29.. which explains why I'm drenched. That pastis is going to hit the spot..!

We lurked in the 'coolth' of indoors most of today as the temperature climbed.. and then climbed some more. It peaked at 37 (98°F) this afternoon.. before it mercifully cooled off. By 8pm it was cool enough to take the dog out for his long awaited walk after he'd spent the day spread-eagled on the tiled floor in the kitchen.. We had a 5 minute downpour late in the evening and sometime during the night we had a Close Encounter of a Meteorological Kind as I'm sure I heard the wind howling outside rattling the shutters.

22nd August 2011. This morning..? All appears as normal again.. Word of the day? Easy - it's canicule.. or - as we Anglos would say - a heat wave. El Scorchio again this afternoon.. Spent the morning painting some more shutters and the garage doors while it was relatively cool but, having just returned from posting some mail, I'm dripping again.. 30 in the shade.. (mustn't grumble!)

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

161. Tough job

9th August 2011. I've been mulling over a question posed by S & B from Australia in a recent comment - they're going to be visiting the Pays Basque in Sept/Oct for 5 weeks - and they "would be interested to read about your experiences wine shopping in the PB -- where to find reasonable quality and a good range."
Unfortunately, there's no easy answer to that. The first question is: what kind of wines do you like? Bordeaux/Burgundy/Rhone/Loire.. Light reds? Meaty reds? White? Rosé? Putting all that to one side for a moment, in terms of where to buy your wine there are several options - supermarkets, coopératives and shops/markets.

Probably the best place to buy in terms of price and variety would be a grande surface (such as Carrefour - heresy!) but it would also be the least rewarding in terms of the overall experience as there'll be no-one there to ask questions of and certainly no-one will step forward and offer you a number of glasses of wine to taste - as they will in a coopérative..

In a specialist wine shop you're likely to come up against someone whose reason for getting into the business is love of the product. That has to be better than standing blankly in the aisle of a supermarket looking at literally thousands of bottles - plus you might learn something about a number of wines..

So if you have the time and the inclination, perhaps the best way to do it would be to visit a shop or two for some background knowledge of the wines of the region, followed by the coopératives to find out what you like by tasting, then compare the price there with the price in a large supermarket. You'll be surprised to find that the supermarket price is often less than that of the coopérative. 

A good starting point to get you in the mood would be the area in and around Les Halles de Biarritz (the indoor market). Dotted around the fringe are a number of specialist wine shops. But, but.. before visiting them, take a look inside the market just to whet the appetite and sharpen the senses. I've mentioned this before in earlier posts but the smell inside the indoor market is indescribable - a rich, buttery, cheesy, chickeny smell with foie gras and jambon highlights.. that is extremely hazardous to your wallet if you make the mistake of stepping inside when you're hungry.. Looking around Les Halles is as pleasurable an experience as shopping ever gets..!
And then after shopping, there's the perennial question of where to have lunch.. Fortunately, in Biarritz, that's not a problem.

There's this - the Bar du Marché - at one end of the spectrum - which we haven't tried yet but which looks promising:
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And then there's this - the Hôtel du Palais.. the jewel in the crown of the Pays Basque. We haven't been here either and I'm not sure we ever will (be able to afford to). Here's one of their menus.
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Don't forget, there's an indoor market at Bayonne and another at St Jean de Luz where you can repeat the experience all over again!

So - back to earth again - the question remains - what kind of wine do you like..?

Wines from the South West that you're likely to see on menus in the Pays Basque include the following:
Whites:  
Jurançon - available in both Doux & Sec (Sweet & Dry). The Doux is excellent with foie gras and desserts. The Sec is good with fish and seafood.
Txakoli - worth trying. (Wouldn't put it in the same category as Jurançon though)
Reds - the 2 main ones found in the Pays Basque are Irouléguy and Madiran. To taste the Irouléguy (try the Gorri d'Ansa) before buying, drive out to the Cave at St Etienne de Baïgorry (taking the opportunity to have lunch at the Hôtel Arcé there at the same time!) We've talked about Madiran many times here - ones to search out would be Château Peyros and our old friend Château Bouscassé.

Don't forget to keep an eye on the alcohol content of wines you're trying.. Once wine gets over 13.5%, lunches can often be the prelude to an afternoon spent sleeping it off! (I believe..) I'd avoid wines like Rhone wines like Gigondas which - although extremely more-ish - often come in at 14.5% - otherwise you'll be having lots of unexplained blanks in your holiday diary!  

To S & B - make sure you have a "Waiter's friend" in your pocket when you come over.. ideal for opening a bottle out in the countryside..

10th August 2011. I occasionally visit an online forum for expats in France - last night I was reading a thread there about the riots in the inner cities and someone posted a telling comment: "What has happened to our once beautiful country? Yes, I know, I left it 4 years ago because I would rather be a stranger in someone else's country than my own, but it still hurts."   

That pretty much sums up my view of England and why I could leave without regret - it was no longer the country I grew up in.

After watching the lunchtime news which featured the ongoing riots in several English cities, I switched off and stepped out onto the terrace.. What a contrast..! It looked like a Kodachrome image under a burning blue sky and blazing sunshine. For a few moments I felt guilty.. then I thought - we both worked hard for over 40 years, paid our taxes and this - living here in Bayonne - is our reward. Life wasn't easy for either of us but we stuck at it. We didn't expect a handout from anyone and we weren't disappointed!

I read somewhere the other day that the life you find yourself leading today is the cumulative result of all the decisions you ever made in your life. Not the decisions that other people around you made - but the ones you consciously made. I'd suggest that the disruption and riots in the UK (edited to change this to England!) are the result of all the poor decisions taken by society during my lifetime. 

12th August 2011.The next time someone tells you France is expensive, just point them at the following words..
Sare

We were in Sare at lunchtime today (home of the Hôtel Arraya - one of the hidden treasures of the Pays Basque - more following) and we happened upon a menu board outside a Salon de Thé (aka Snack Olamendy).. The sign outside reads Salon de thé and Patisserie.. There was a screech of rubber from my shoes as I stopped dead in my tracks.. steak & frites 5€, confit of duck & frites 7€ and so it went on.. Another board gave the drinks prices.. a farmhouse cider was 1.60€ while a bottle of red wine was all of 6€.. (US$8.50 / £5.25)

There were a few tables set out under the platanes and, as luck would have it, there was one free. Madame had the Salade du Pays which included jambon de Bayonne and Basque cheese - fromage de brebis - while I had a delicious confit & frites.. Including a drink each, the bill came to 16.50€.. Definitely one to remember and gets my tick! Sare is listed as one of the most beautiful villages in France so if you're in the area it should be on your list of 'must visits' in any case..

While you're in Sare, try and squeeze in a visit to the very Basque Hôtel Arraya.. It's smack bang in the centre and you can't miss it. A former hospice, it was the last stop in France for pilgrims en route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. 
Dining under the platanes

Take a step inside - it's furnished in the traditional manner with antique Basque furniture - and very comfortable it is too.

Friday, 5 August 2011

160. Big feet, bagpipes & bullfights

5th August 2011. Finding shoes in my size here in the Pays Basque is a constant struggle - most shoes top out at size 44 or 45. My feet, however, continue on beyond that to - but modesty forbids..! You know what they say: "Big feet? Big socks..!"

Whilst over in Seattle for work in the 90s though I came across a Florsheim factory outlet store and found some business shoes made to a quality unobtainable in the UK at the price - and they were available in my size. I dust them off now and again and they still look good. Desperate times call for desperate measures and so a week or two ago, before we left to go to the mountains (see here), I clicked on the Nordstrom web site (a chain of department stores across the US equivalent to John Lewis in the UK). As luck would have it they were having a sale and - lo and behold - they had some Florsheim shoes that fitted both my feet and the bill. I ordered a pair as the price was still attractive (just) even with the postage from the US to France.

I picked them up from DHL at Biarritz airport yesterday morning only to find that I had 33€ (almost US$47!) outstanding to pay in VAT.. ouch..! Then when we got home and I tried them on, I noticed some small print under the tongue - Made in India.. Now, I have nothing against shoes or any other products from India or anywhere else for that matter - but I think any product description should include a statement of exactly where it was  manufactured. I was labouring under the misapprehension that Florsheim shoes were US-made. Florsheim are not alone in this - many major brands have re-located their manufacturing operations to Asia and elsewhere..

I'm a big fan of L.L. Bean who sell products with that quintessentially American look via mail order and trade on their Maine heritage.. but look at where some of their range originates. It's the same story for Lands' End - they too sell clothing with that relaxed All-American look. Their products used to be 100% American made at Dodgeville, Wisconsin - but in recent years the word 'imported' has crept in more and more. It appears that Florsheim has gone the same route. One of the reasons for buying a distinctive brand is for the perceived values that it uniquely offers - part of which lies in where it's manufactured. For example, would you consider buying a Greek Volkswagen, a Taiwanese Rolex or a Brazilian single malt whisky? No, I didn't think so - which is why companies like L.L. Bean and Lands' End avoid being too specific and use only "Imported" in their product descriptions. As manufacturing is increasingly out-sourced to low labour-cost regions of the world, it makes me wonder how the US - and other major western economies who do likewise - are ever going to manufacture their way out of recession.

Right - enough of that - time for a tingle! If you can tell me that this next clip honestly has no effect on you, then to my mind you need to think about seeing your medical professional! Was it the Duke of Wellington who said: "I don't know what effect these men will have upon the enemy, but, by God, they frighten me."

This is a clip of a Scottish massed pipe band leaving the Edinburgh Military Tattoo - I like the way they segue into the "Black Bear" at 00:36.. it always gives me a shiver.. Crank your volume up:
With the Rugby World Cup starting to loom larger on the horizon, I reckon if the NZ "All Blacks" (a great side even if they were fast asleep in deck chairs) feel the need to pump themselves up prior to a match with the aid of their 'Haka', then the Jocks should be allowed to return the compliment with a rambunctious "in yer face" pipe band rendition of the "Black Bear".. And I say that as an Anglais! If you believe in a level playing field, let's have it level!

Let's have one last look at them - they show the rest how a proud military unit should leave an arena.. (The Royal Marines should take note..) If you just want to hear those pipes again, fast forward to around 01:50.. and turn that volume to max again - and wait for the goose pimples!
Just noticed - not much about the Pays Basque in this post.. Never mind - rescue is at hand! Here's a segment of Jean-Luc Petitrenaud's cookery show (Les Escapades de Petitrenaud) we sometimes watch - this is a two-parter set in the Pays Basque.. and she's making a pipérade. And yes, you're right, J-L P is annoying! Part 2 follows on after this..
6th August 2011. Ab-so-lutely knackered this afternoon! Went down to the river this morning and had an long outing in an VIII sculler.. Rowed virtually non-stop to Villefranque where we turned around. It was very warm out there and there were more than a few red faces when we returned.. My T-shirt was wet through. Did 18km. (Running total: 906km) Back home and after a long cool shower, we fired up the plancha and had a few sardines out on the terrace with some sangria.. and a Turkish coffee and my last cigarillo.. Now I think a tactical snooze might be on the cards!

There's a piece in the Daily Telegraph that caught my eye asking whether expats are drinking themselves to death. Not me - I belong to the group described in the paragraph beginning "By contrast there are those retirees..."

As the day approaches l'heure bleue - it's one of the day's pleasant little rituals to set out the olives and the nuts, break out a handful of ice-cubes, drop them into a couple of glasses and pour out the sangria. Garnish with a slice of orange and/or lemon. The first one hits the spot.. Sometimes - but not always - there might be a second. Never a third.

6.45pm. I'm writing this as the bullfight takes place about 300m away.. I can hear the jeers, the applause and the stupid triumphalist music as the poor beasts are tormented one by one. Then, 5 minutes ago, after grey clouds blew in from the Bay of Biscay and the wind freshened, there was a sudden downpour and yes! I thought.. all those ghouls who watch the bullfight will have been soaked. And better still - the bullfighter's enemy - the wind - is blowing in gusts - all the better for the bull to see the matador hiding behind his cape. Disgusting practice, doesn't belong in France and should be banned. And some parents take their children along to the bull ring.. 

If bullfights are to continue in the 21st century, they should be run along these lines..

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

159. From the Pays Basque to the high Pyrenees

2nd August 2011. Arrived back home yesterday after a long weekend (Fri-Mon) up in the high Pyrenees to the south east of the Pays Basque. We stayed at a small hotel at Luz Saint Sauveur (French version here) next to a rushing mountain torrent..

Luz Saint Sauveur lies an hour by winding road (52km) to the south of Tarbes. We were surrounded by mountains that ranged from 6-9,000ft and the winding roads in the valleys between villages took us through breathtaking scenery with some vertiginous drop-offs. No place to drive if you suffer from vertigo..

The first place we visited was to see the famous Cirque de Gavarnie and the cascades (waterfalls) which are some 422 metres (1380-odd feet) high.. It was clear why the Pyrenees had, for so long, provided a natural barrier between France and Spain. Mountains rose sheer from the fast flowing streams that roared their way through the tight valleys and the steeply sloping hills were closely covered in pines. 
Cascades, Gavarnie
You might want to fast forward this next clip to around 02:20..
Difficult to convey the sense of space and grandeur - but, to give you an idea, that waterfall dwarfs the Eiffel Tower by almost 100m!
This is where the dog drank his own weight in water!

Lac de Gaube
 


View from the summit of the Col du Tourmalet
This last picture (above) was taken from the summit of the Col du Tourmalet looking west back towards the start. This is a mountain climb that's been used as a stage in the Tour de France for a long time. It's staggering to think that these racing cyclists are not only able to ride a bicycle up this road - but also to race up it too. From Luz Saint Sauveur, it's a continuous climb for 19km up to the summit which is 2115m - 6939ft - high. Remember, too, that the air at this altitude contains much less oxygen than at sea level so, in addition to the effort made by the legs, their lungs must be bursting by the time they grind their way to the top. There were more than several cyclists doing exactly this during their summer holidays.. each to their own! In fact, we spotted one guy running up it..

This is definitely an area we'll be returning to as it's only a two hour drive from Pipérade Towers here in Bayonne. Highly recommended - even at the height of the tourist season it was still far from being crowded. I fell asleep on one 7,000ft high mountain top (as you do!) up in the clouds while waiting for the cable car - with the result that my face now resembles a beef tomato.. and I'm probably a danger to shipping!

I almost forgot: one evening we had a bottle of Chateau Bouscassé Madiran.. It's been a long time since we enjoyed a red wine so much as we did this one. Well worth hunting one (or more) down. I must see if I can find it around here.
PS. Many thanks to S&B for their comment below.. I had a look at their link to the Chateau Bouscassé Madirans and I wouldn't argue with a single word. Forget the great Bordeaux wines (for a few moments) and beg, borrow or steal a bottle of this. I must be honest - we'd been drinking a Buzet red at the hotel .. and while it was OK at the price, it was nothing spectacular. They ran out of it one evening and our waiter substituted a bottle of the Bouscassé for it at the same price as the Buzet. The difference in quality screamed out of the glass at me.. I checked the price via the net when we returned and it retails for more than I usually pay for a bottle. Multiply by at least 2 for the restaurant price and it's clear that our waiter did us an enormous favour! I used to look for Madiran in England but I was never able to find anything this good. I'm no good at describing wine in the way the critics do - "cigar boxes, pencil shavings, liquorice and red fruit.." All I can say is that it was like velvet on the tongue and it lingered long in the mouth - but not long in the bottle! A truly memorable wine.

PPS. "Is it me..?" Department. I thought I'd share this with you.. While we were away, we were sitting in a café somewhere and I was tearing the end of the paper tube of sugar for my coffee. I tore the end of the first one, poured the sugar in my coffee and crumpled up the paper and put it in the ash tray. I then took the second one - tore the top off it and poured the sugar straight into the ash tray.. How did that happen? Have I now reached the age when I'll open my eyes one day to find I'm standing in my pyjamas in a shopping centre? Tell me I'm not the only one!

Finally, on the theme of Luz Saint Sauveur, Napoleon III used to visit the area and he apparently said one day that he'd like a bridge to be built to span a local gorge. Four years later, in 1863, it was duly completed. Nowadays it's used for bungee jumping or saut à l'élastique as it's known here. Here's a clip that shows what it's like to fall 90m.. Did we try it? Er no..


And just for K, who left a comment under the last post, here's the late Terry-Thomas telling us how to speak to a German POW.. as only he could!

3rd August 2011. I mentioned Woody Allen's new film "Midnight in Paris" a few posts ago - hands up all those who've seen it...? This is "Bistro Fada" - a catchy little swing jazz guitar number from it..

4th August 2011. Every now and again, a moment comes along that reminds us why we like it here so much. For example, this morning we took the pooch for a walk around Lac Mouriscot at Biarritz. Even at the height of the tourist season, we were almost the only ones there. There's a shaded walk around the lake and the cool waters were just too tempting for Chibby - he didn't waste any time in getting wet and muddy. On our return, we had lunch outside on the terrace - Madame had bought some fresh crab legs and sardines. We had the crab legs with a salad and then we fired up the plancha to cook the sardines with her patent Piment d'Espelette marinade. I served some cold Sangria - and afterwards we had some fruit. Then, a Turkish coffee and a cigarillo.. under the umbrella in the heat of the afternoon sun. Perfect.. The thought crossed my mind - could we do any of this back in the UK..? Answer? Regrettably no..