8th November 2012. We decided to have lunch out in Bayonne yesterday and we had in mind a place on the banks of the Nive. It was so warm we found a table outside and sat out there in the dazzling sunshine - I had to take my jacket off. We'd had pizzas here before and they were comparable to ones we'd enjoyed in Italy - so we ordered and leaned back, savouring the November day with the help of a carafe of red wine. Looking down, fat grey mullet were holding station easily against the gentle current with lazy flicks of their tails as they waited for any stray offerings from above. After the pizzas, we had pain perdu with ice cream.. followed by coffee. Occasionally we contemplate living up in the mountains in the Jura but then we'd never have days like these. Ernest Dowson said it best:
They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.
Slowly, the approach of Christmas is felt. It does seem strange to be thinking of setting one's mind in seasonal mode amid sunny blue skies but we've already ordered Christmas cards from the UK. Sending Christmas cards in France - or indeed greetings cards of most kinds - is not as widespread a practice as it is across the Channel. Here, people are accustomed to send each other New Year cards instead - usually in the first few weeks of January - so the few card shops there are here stock a limited choice of Christmas cards.
Yesterday I noticed a small group of army officers in combat clothing from the Special Forces barracks across the river standing in front of the War Memorial in Bayonne finalising the detailed planning for the Armistice parade on Sunday. I always try and attend this if I'm able. There's something about the Marseillaise when it's played by trumpets accompanied by the dry rattle of sidedrums that stands my hair on end and raises goose bumps.
12th November 2012. Went down to the river this morning - apparently there's a Monday morning group who go out then. There were a whole lot of new faces there - ones who don't do Saturday mornings. Went out in a coxless IV - I was stroke - and we took it up the river in brilliant sunshine. Apart from the blazing yellows and reds of the trees, it was hard to believe that it was November. Coming back, our wake was gilded by the low sun - absolutely perfect. We did about 11km.
Banjo for Dummies book arrived this morning - I've been struggling with the 5 string banjo for a while and I think this book might just hold the answer. Fingers crossed! (Hey - maybe that's what I've been doing wrong!)
Banjo players appear to be the butt of jokes - see here for details.
What have I started..??!!
18th November 2012. Hard to believe that Christmas is next month. We've been incredibly fortunate with the weather in November - it was 24°C on Friday. One November a couple of years ago, we had rain every day for a month so Nature's largesse this time around is very welcome. Had a memorable outing on the river yesterday - with the mild autumn weather there was a large turnout and we were able to put 2 VIIIs and 3 IVs out on the water. In addition, I was paired with a very fit 'regular' (half my age!) in a double sculler and despite all the confusion of boats and people we managed to slip away without getting caught up and delayed in all the hurly-burly - which is not always easy. There was a strong seawards current running as we headed off up-river. I was 'stroke' and right from the start the boat was balanced and it felt good. It wasn't long before all the other boats disappeared from sight as we found a good rhythm. We had a quick stop to remove our warm-up tops and then we set to the task. The boat ran straight and it was soon singing with the stern buried in our bubbling wake. We reached the turn around point and had a drink of water with no sign of any of the other boats. Heading back downstream again, the boat really flew and it wasn't long before we passed the others who were still labouring up-river. We finished with a sprint and all too soon we were back at the 'garage' (clubhouse) after a non-stop row feeling very pleased with ourselves. A very enjoyable 14kms.
Here's an atmospheric shot of a sculler enjoying an evening out on the upper reaches of the Nive:
I don't know if peñas are allowed elsewhere in France but here it seems that just about anyone can open up a temporary bar. This relaxed attitude towards the serving of alcohol is in stark contrast with the highly regulated apparatus of obtaining and keeping a drinks licence in the UK. I'm sure the UK Home Office would throw a major wobbly if they were to witness the number of bars that proliferate during the Fêtes de Bayonne for example. And yet, in 5 years here, I've yet to see anyone staggering and/or lurching through the streets here. It's not well-considered to be seen to be "off your head" here, unlike the UK where getting "completely relaxed" is a regular weekly occurrence for an increasing number. As I've said before, northern Europeans have a different attitude to alcohol compared to those in the south, where a natural joie de vivre lies close to the surface. Unlike us more buttoned up northerners, here in the south they need little in the way of artificial encouragement for it to emerge. As the sole representative of northern Europe at the club, I will be doing my best to consume avec modération!
The clip above reminded me that I mentioned Paris a few posts ago - remember? (Post 188) Well, if you ever do decide to go there, after you've seen all the sights, here's a little-known suggestion for you to tuck away in your hip pocket. Paris has a number of covered shopping arcades that are home to an eclectic range of small shops. There's a guide to them here and they are a perfect way of spending a rainy afternoon. (quiet in the cheap seats!☺) These arcades are home to some genuinely interesting shops - and it's not often you'll hear me say that! Specialist bookshops, antique maps, prints, old clock shops, intimate cafés, musical instruments, restorers, curios, objets d'art, the list is endless. (NB: Best in full screen and 1080p HD!)
By the way, if you would like to add a comment about how reading this blog has been a life-changing experience for you (dream on!☺) then click here, scroll down and give vent to your views (all in a good cause!) Phrases such as "Laugh? I almost did.." and "Be still my aching sides" won't get used I'm afraid..☺