Saturday, 1 September 2018

259. That's it, then.

13th September. This is the first video in a series that describes how someone out in the Canadian wilderness built himself a log cabin.. It promises to be addictive! Let me know what you think of it.
He has all his videos listed here - so plenty more to choose from.

Our annual Comète weekend starts this evening.. Sadly it only comes around once a year.

Here's a song that speaks to me - especially the first couple of verses:
10th September. For those of us of a certain age, fifty years ago we'd watch transfixed at the remarkable television coverage - often live - of NASA's Saturn V rockets, just shy of 3000 tons, blasting off from Cape Canaveral as they headed for the moon on an incandescent tongue of flame. The sheer scale and power of these rockets was hard to comprehend. Little did I think then that years later I would be lucky enough to visit Florida and see one of these giants (46 feet taller than Big Ben) close up. From JFK promising - in September 1962 -  in that unforgettable spine-tingling speech ("We choose to go to the Moon") where he announced America's intention to land an American on the moon by the end of the decade, this was a stupendously ambitious project and it was all conducted in the unforgiving spotlight of global media attention. The Apollo programme was surely the most remarkable engineering achievement in the history of Man - and it worked perfectly. (more here
8th September. I took Nutty to the "Naughty Boys Club" (aka Obedience class) this morning and he did so well, he's been upgraded to the next class up for slightly older dogs. The secret behind this sudden change of fortune was that I didn't give him his breakfast before we left. That ensured that he gave all the exercises his full attention (especially those that came with an edible reward!) - and he romped through them all in a near-faultless display. The girl who runs the class was impressed. I know better though! 

It's been a while since I've included a Basque choir - so without further ado, here's Oldarra - with their beautiful rendition of Agur Jaunak - a song of welcome.
If my dear old Mum was here, I'm sure she'd be saying that, in the interests of balance, I should include a Welsh male voice choir - so as I'm a quarter Welsh, who am I to argue! I grew up to the sound of her singing as she went around the house - and she loved Welsh choirs. I think there are quite a few similarities between Basque and Welsh male voice choirs. See what you think:
6th September. This song was the soundtrack to our early days and it's for all those who have had a long distance relationship - the interminable waiting at airports and windblown train stations, the hellos and the bittersweet goodbyes:
A few minutes ago I felt like reminding myself what it's like to row in a fast VIII.. and I found this clip on YouTube. I've never rowed six abreast in an VIIIs race, but looking at this video of the Olympic final of the Mens VIIIs in Rio, I can only begin to imagine what the exhilaration must have been like in that British boat after the controlled fury of that thunderous start when they found themselves leading the race. All the pain of endless training - the early starts, the weights, the dieting, the rowing machines, the runs - would have disappeared in that one golden moment. Need I say it but it's best in full screen. The overhead view from the drone camera really does capture the spirit of that event.

3rd September. I was down at the beach at the Plage des Cavaliers, Anglet, this morning with Nutty for a quick run.. This is definitely September weather now - always the best month here. Most of the holidaymakers have gone and the weather has cooled down a notch or two. The blue green ocean was calm with impressive breakers forming just at the water's edge. Silver mist hung over the empty golden sands with the mountains just a faint blue line in the distance. Days like these remind me why we love this blessed part of the world and also the fact that we're lucky enough to be spending our retirement years here.

"Tally Ho"
2nd SeptemberFor the past few months I've been following the inspiring story of Leo Goolden, a resourceful young English boat builder, who has taken on an enormous restoration challenge: that of rebuilding "Tally Ho" - a 108 year old wooden yacht (right) that was teetering on the brink of total dereliction. Looking at it, I would have said it was beyond economic repair. The story is being told via a series of short bite-sized YouTube videos - and if you're anything like me, you'll find them compulsive viewing. He seems completely undaunted by any of the challenges that the boat throws up at him - and believe me, there's no shortage of those. It seems that there's nothing that fazes Leo.. I tip my hat to him in total respect. 

1st September. Had a good session with Nutty down at the dog training class this morning. I think there's a film waiting to be made here! Put 15 assorted dogs into a fenced off enclosure, let them loose and watch the fun develop! The girl who runs the class has one of these (left) - a Cane Corso Italiano - and, as you might expect, he's very well trained. He's a large gentle dog with an excellent temperament and he simply sits there watching the chaos developing all around him. If he wanted, he could sort out the 'bad lads' in a few seconds. But he's seen it all before and he occasionally shifts his position - but does little else. You'd need a large house for him to be comfortable. (It appears here that Nutty's not the only dog who eats pebbles!)   

As I write this, there's a bullfight in progress in the neighbourhood (5 minutes walk from here) - and occasionally I can hear the jeers and catcalls of the moronic crowd as a bull hasn't read the script and doesn't die as he should. Ugh.. How people can watch the spectacle of 6 bulls being dispatched in this manner - for their entertainment - is beyond me. I believe there's another corrida tomorrow too. Instead of fiddling about with summer time, Juncker and his unelected cronies should set about banning this barbaric 'sport' from Europe - a spectacle where animals are killed and their deaths are applauded to amuse the crowds. Shameful.    

September - this is our kind of weather. Temperatures in the lower twenties, humidity down from the unbearable wet blanket that lay over the land just a few weeks ago, and blue skies.. 

Meanwhile, it appears I won't have much time for blogging! I read that these are the tasks I should be carrying out this month: removing dead and non-productive vegetable crops; apply manure and compost to clay soils; planting crops for late autumn harvest: cabbages, peas, fennel, cauliflower, lettuce, swiss chard, onions, leeks, Chinese peas, and endive; drying peppers and squash; start new strawberry beds; dig up and divide garlic, perennials, iris, daylilies, bulbs and onions; keep watering properly even as the weather begins to cool; clean up all dead fruit; fruit trees fed and sprayed with tonics; seed lawns with rye grass for winter colour; remove any dead shrubs or trees; dig holes for planting trees and shrubs; purchase potted trees and shrubs for planting in autumn; continue to mulch trees and shrubs; raking fallen leaves and add to compost pile; purchase bulbs from nurseries; feed lawn with slow release fertilizer; remove spent blooms from roses; weed vegetables and shrubs, mow lawns; start to prepare sheds, tools, and equipment for Winter weather; repair roofs.

My response to all this would be to ask: "And what, pray, should I do with the feather duster?" Answers on a postcard please!

Quote of the day: Remember: we're all in this alone.

I remembered late tonight that it was 11 years to the day since we arrived here in the Pays Basque - thus setting in motion the second part of a dream we'd had for many years. The first part was selling up in England. Having successfully managed that, we put into storage all the non-essentials and headed south in a rented van with everything we thought we'd need until we found our house in the Pays Basque. Living the dream - it's not often in life that you get to do this.      

Monday, 6 August 2018

258. Bon voyage!

31st August. It's not every day that I stumble across a replica of a 17th century Spanish merchantman moored at the bottom of our avenue - but there's a first time for everything! Welcome to the imaginatively-named Spanish ship El-Galéon.. (made of wood and - wait for it - fibre glass.. I wish I hadn't read that). Ships such as these were the Apollo 11 spacecrafts of their day - going on long voyages and exploring the New World. To my land-lubberly eye, she doesn't look too dissimilar to the replica of the Mayflower I saw once in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The length of El-Galéon is given as 50m - whereas the Mayflower II is 32m.







She's in the Adour until 9th September. 

27th August. The unmistakeable sight and sounds of Ferraris were greatly in evidence around Bayonne this weekend past. For 25€, people could go for a drive in a Ferrari (as passenger!) with all the proceeds going to children in need. A worthy cause generously sponsored by the local Lions Club of Bayonne.

I spotted one of these parked at the top of our avenue this morning.. It appears to this old curmudgeon that the designers of the vehicle have managed to incorporate (at great expense) all of the disadvantages offered by both cars and motorcycles - and none of the advantages..
I see from a quick google that one could be yours for around 35,000 euros.. I just can't imagine to what question this is the answer. I must be getting old! ☺

26th August. The pooch and I went down to the beach this morning.. and there's no sign of any diminution in the number of tourists yet - even though according to the news yesterday, many people were heading back north. The season here continues much as before for at least another month. If you want to escape the mass of tourists who clutter the coast, then the best advice is to head for the hills inland (a 30 minute drive from here).     

25th August. Here's Gunhild Carling and her Swing Band with their cheeky* version of "Dark Eyes" - you may wish to draw the curtains and set your cocoa down before playing it! And don't play it while the vicar's sitting there with his sherry.. not unless you want him to come back!
* You've been warned!

24th August. We're having a very welcome downpour here this morning.. a garden hose can only do so much. This will keep everything as green as nature intended - as well as cooling down the air.

As the Brexit negotiations enter the final stage, for any Brits resident in France, or indeed elsewhere in the EU, I'd strongly recommend downloading this free Brexit Guide. Even though you might have done your planning for all eventualities, it's a very useful "sanity check". It prompted me to consider one or two things I hadn't previously thought of.   

23rd August. This mighty piece - Symphony n°3 - by Saint-Saëns played by Daniel Roth at the organ of the Church of Saint-Sulpice, Paris, could well have been the inspiration for that oft-quoted comment by Admiral Farragut of the United States Navy: "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead"! Those majestic opening chords give me goosebumps.. Go on - crank up the volume!
21st August. I was spraying the garden around 9pm this evening - as it was parched after a long hot day - and, as if by magic, the water brought the smell of the hot earth and the plants to life - along with someone in the vicinity who was barbequeing some meat. Aah, the smells of summer...

I went for a ride along the Nive this morning as far as the rapids at Ustaritz (30km). Very enjoyable.. not too many other people out and about and not a soul out on the river.

Who said “too much of anything is bad, but too much good whisky is barely enough”?
* answer at the foot of this post.

Meanwhile - where can I find one of these?
"Say when..."
19th August. The weather has been kinder to us of late. Thankfully, the temperatures have lowered a few notches from the stifling heat of recent memory - and more importantly, the humidity has decreased to sub-Amazonian levels. Previously, any physical activity would have quickly resulted in a wet shirt and a longing for a cold shower. This morning, I spent an hour or two cutting back the latest growth in the garden - notably our three palm trees that have been growing as if on steroids! At this time of the year, visits to the déchetterie (the council waste disposal site) have become a twice weekly event.      

16th August. Spent most of yesterday up in the mountains with a few kindred souls - all related to the Comet Line. The spectacular weather allowed us almost unlimited visibility.. We were accompanied by a couple of journalists who are preparing a feature for their paper. We were right on the Franco-Spanish border here - a significant location during WWII - as this was the very spot where around 125 Allied airmen - shot down in northern France and the Low Countries - crossed the border at night en route to freedom. German mountain troops were based at Esteben Borda, an isolated farm that now serves a hearty lunch to hikers.

If you click on the above link, looking slightly south of due west from Esteben Borda, about 1 km distant, you'll see a small building in Spain - this is Jauriko Borda - and during WWII, this was the first 'safe house' outside occupied France. It's incredibly well hidden and only visible from a couple of distant viewpoints. We took the journalists down to the old farm building that nestles into the hillside surrounded by trees. After this, we went back up and over the ridge to Esteben Borda for a lively lunch. Highly recommended!

12th August. Out on my ebike this morning.. A very pleasant ride down the Adour to the Atlantic coast then a left hand turn to parallel the sea and then straight down to the lighthouse at Biarritz (27km total). Lots of people out on two wheels so much care needed. Biarritz looked alive in the sunlight with a mass of sun-lovers already stretched out on the Grande Plage.
9th August. I was reminded earlier of Karen Blixen - a Danish national who moved to what is now Kenya (British East Africa at the time) in December 1913. There, she bought a farm and planted coffee. Most of us are familiar with the story through the film "Out of Africa" - inspired by the book of the same name she wrote under the nom-de-plume Isak Dinesen.

I once mentioned here that her book was the only reading material I had for 5 months when we moved into a gîte on our arrival here in August 2007 - all our other books having been boxed up and put into storage before I had the time to extract a few old favourites to last me for an unknown number of months. Fortunately, I'd been reading "Out of Africa" at the time and I stowed it in an overnight bag. I doubt if I could have improved on my choice. I think I read it three times during that period. Her opening sentence in this beautifully written autobiographical account still stops me dead: I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong hills. 
Ngong Hills

Highly recommended for her insider's view of the colonial community - but mainly for her lyrical view of an Africa that ceased to exist a long time ago.    

8th August. Here's the Symphony Orchestra from the Bulgarian National Radio playing an old favourite of mine - George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue..(1924)
 (And - genuine question - did the player of the kettle drums come in half a beat too soon at 3:24? Or half a beat too late. I can't tell.. It sounded a bit odd there to my untutored ear)

See what you think of this version by the Royal Academy of Music (keep an eye on the violinists!). Plus see if you can spot the banjo.

6th August. There was a fragment of this piece in the soundtrack of "Florence Foster-Jenkins" - well worth a listen:
There's something about Paris that lends itself to black and white photography.. I first visited "The City of Light" in in the mid-sixties and, to my eternal regret, I didn't take a camera. Fortunately there's no shortage of period photos on the web - so I thought - hang the expense! - I knocked up a quick slideshow for you. Sit back, relax and enjoy these evocative and nostalgic images of this, the most photogenic of cities:

Trying to think who's singing the song? It's Lucienne Boyer - with "Parlez-moi d'amour".. from 1930. And well before my time before anyone thinks I'm an old fogey..!

3rd August. For those unfamiliar with French roads, I thought I'd add a few words of explanation. Where to start..? There are three main types of roads here and the prefix letter identifies what type of road you can expect. 

A roads, or Autoroutes, are designated by the letter A followed by a number. An Autoroute is the equivalent of a British motorway or an American freeway. Autoroute signs are indicated with white lettering on a blue background. Although some are free to use, most Autoroutes in France are toll roads - and these are indicated when joining by a sign indicating Péage (the clue's in the name!). 

N roads, or Routes Nationales, are the major trunk roads throughout France and on directional signs are depicted with white lettering on a green background. They are designated with the letter ‘N’ followed by a number which is normally shown as white lettering on a red background. Since the recent regionalisation of responsibility of main roads, road numbering has become somewhat misleading and therefore it is recommended to follow the directional signs for your place of destination. 

D roads are the Departmental, or county roads, and can range from busy local routes, recently downgraded route nationales or the much smaller country roads and lanes France is so well known for. I must admit to liking driving on D roads as you can find that yours is  the only car on the roads. The other main advantage is that you get to see France - as elsewhere, the autoroutes are largely indistinguishable from one another. Then there are the roadside restaurants..

However, a note of caution. Drivers on D roads should remain alert as local councils seem to change the posted speed limits arbitrarily.

When entering a town, village or hamlet, its presence will be advertised by a sign such as this (right). This means, unless otherwise advised, that the speed limit is automatically 50km/h (30mph). It is commonplace to see the name of the town repeated underneath in the local language. Within the town or village, you may find that the limit changes within the space of a few hundred metres from 50km/h to 30 or even 20.

Exiting a town or village will be marked by a sign like this (with a red strike through) which indicates that the 50km/h restriction no longer applies.

Speed cameras have become de rigueur on all roads - and average speed cameras (that make use of automatic number plate recognition technology) are steadily being introduced on autoroutes. The maximum speed limit on D roads (without a central reservation) was formerly 90km/h. It's now 80km/h

One final tip - offered in the best interests of preserving marital harmony - if your car is fitted with GPS, do yourself a favour and update the memory before travelling! Enjoy your trip!




* Answer: Mark Twain.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

257. Summer's here.. at last!

31st July. We're back to a steaming Bayonne after escaping the Fetes de Bayonne for a few days. We stayed near Capdenac Gare in the Aveyron - right on the border with the Lot. I'll add some details later but for now here's a short slideshow I put together of some images from our long weekend:

This wasn't a part of France I'd visited before and so we crammed quite a few kilometres into our three free days there. The village of Conques was first on our list - and while it's fair to say that early ecclesiastical relics are not one of my interests in life, neither of us were prepared for the astonishing treasures to be found on display there - some of the pieces dating back to the 8th century.
Conques





The pride of the collection must surely be this richly bejeweled golden statuary of Saint Foy (right) that dates from the 9th-10th century. The village itself is well worth a visit.

The following day, we set off on a 1½ hour drive to Collonges-la-Rouge - a village famous for its red sandstone. This was prime tourist honeypot country - and the entire village was given over to the selling of tourist memorabilia in all its forms. We escaped early from the throngs and had a good lunch at the Auberge de Benges. The village was far too touristique for us.

On the Sunday, we visited Villefranche-de-Rouergue and Najac. The cool narrow streets of Villefranche-en-R were almost deserted and it was a pleasure to explore the arcaded passages. In contrast, Najac's market was in full swing and once again, we found a place to retreat to for an excellent light lunch - l'Air du Temps.   

There must have been a Roman influence on road building in this area as many of the D roads were ruler straight. On reaching the brow of a hill, your eye would be taken by the ribbon of the road stretching straight as an arrow to the far distant horizon. You'd see a car beetling along in the shimmering distance and it would take minutes before it would flash by. Even in the height of the summer the roads were pleasantly empty. 

25th July. This song by the Corries reminds me of some of the spectacular mountain scenery we saw in the far north west of Scotland some 3 years ago..
Skye
If you haven't been up to the far north west of Scotland, I would urge you to make the trip.. 
I took a quick trip to Dancharia (just over the border in Spain) this morning to fill the car up with diesel prior to our break tomorrow - and the signs that the Tour de France is coming here on Saturday 28th July were in evidence. The stage is described here.. scroll down the link for the map that takes a second or three to load. These are beautiful country roads and so if you watch the Tour on Saturday, it will give you an idea of the Basque countryside. We regularly drive over these roads and I look forward to seeing the stage on TV. This is also the exact same area that was used by guides of the Comet Line as they helped around 125 Allied aircrew to escape into Spain during WWII.. Story here.    

24th July. Woke up this morning to the sound of rumbling thunder and rain. This is one strange summer.

22nd July. The town is girding its loins ready for the annual invasion by over a million visitors to the Fêtes de Bayonne.. We'll be escaping the white-clad hordes - we're heading off to stay near Figeac (right) for a few days.

21st July. I meant to post this earlier but I got sidetracked.. France exploded in an eruption of joy last Sunday when they deservedly beat Croatia to claim the FIFA World Cup for the second time. The result triggered a cacophony of car horns late into the night. France were clearly the team to beat throughout the tournament – and they saw off Argentina, Uruguay and much-fancied Belgium among others. 
England, playing a laboured and predictably uninspired brand of football, somehow stumbled into the semi finals backed by a jingoistic media at home whipping up popular support. Waist-coated Gareth Southgate played a mix of average and very average players and due to a remarkably kind draw progressed further than they could have expected. Reading the UK press though, I did start to wonder if the media hacks had been watching the same games as me. I was happy to see England snatch defeat from the jaws of victory - I don't think I could have stood the sight of them being dismantled and thrashed by Les Bleus in the final. Great credit must go to Didier Deschamps - the captain of France's World Cup winning team in 1998 and now the manager of this great French team - an immense achievement he can be justly proud of.  

13th July. I'm going to spare you further coverage of the last couple of days of the San Fermin Festival.

We went to Saint-Jean-de-Luz yesterday morning as we had a few jobs to do there. First off was picking up a little something for Madame's birthday from Maison Laffargue - one of her favourite shops - and then a replacement glass chimney for a lamp from Quincaillerie Debibie that Bulldozaire (aka 'Nutty', our cocker spaniel pup) had succeeded in breaking.

Buvette de la Halle
Finally, another quick stop at Ducru here to pick up a pair of salt and pepper mills. We also did some people-watching at the Place Louis XIV over a coffee at our habitual haunt - the Bar de la Marine... endlessly fascinating!

We finished up at the Buvette de la Halle (right).. for grilled sardines and a small pichet of rosé - followed by a delicious home-made crème brûlée each. We've been going there for almost 30 years and it's as good as ever. Tip: Arrive early to ensure a table in the shade. Ignore the comments on Trip Advisor - this is a simple pavement café serving the freshest of seafood, the staff are friendly and very busy serving all the tables. Don't confuse speed with brusqueness.. We've never experienced anything remotely close to the alleged rudeness or brusqueness in almost 30 years. NB No credit cards!

While we still have a minor Russian theme running, here's Jack Teagarden's band with their swing rendition of that old Russian song "Dark Eyes".. As you may have noticed, I never get tired of listening to this particular song - so sit back and pick the bones out of this!
12th July. This made me laugh!

Day 6 and still going strong..

11th July. San Fermin Day 5.. The madness continues.. I think the real enemies of the runners are not the bulls - but other runners.

By the way, I would never wish to be this 'up close and personal' with a bull - let alone two of them.

These bulls mean business..



Brexit update: Last Friday, Theresa May gathered her cabinet together to agree the UK's proposals for defining its future relationship with the EU. The outcome was trumpeted as a triumph for a united cabinet. However, this apparent display of unity was turned on its head 48 hours later by the resignation of David Davis, the Brexit secretary and shortly afterwards by the resignation of Boris Johnson, the Foreign secretary. 3 other pro-Brexit Conservatives have also resigned..

The views of Melanie Phillips are always worth reading and she comments on the débacle here. The following is an extract from her analysis:

".. a real leader would have said to the country something like this: “Look, there are going to be hiccups and problems and we may well have to bite on a few painful bullets. But the upside is that, overall, our economic future is very bright indeed if we make the cleanest possible break; and politically, we will once again be independent and in charge of our own laws and destiny. And for that most precious of all gifts we will pay a price if we have to, just as this country has always buckled down and paid a price for liberty – which is really what Britain is fundamentally all about”. 

And to the EU, such a real leader would have said something like this: “The people of Britain have spoken and we are now leaving you. We will not seek a deal; we will take our chances with WTO rules and tariffs because even with all that we’ll still take you to the economic cleaners; but if you would like to offer us a deal, you’ll find our door is always open because we’ll always be your friends. Good bye!”

I would only differ from the above by saying that believing that a 'deal' could be had with the EU is to mistake the exit process for one in which a 'deal' could be made. The EU is a rule-based structure (essential in an organisation of 28 nations) and so the idea that the UK can still benefit from free trade with the EU without complying with the EU's rules (the so-called four freedoms - goods, services, capital & labour) is pie in the sky. It's their way or no way - and it's taken the UK 2 years to realise that - and judging from the ambitious proposals that emerged from Chequers last Friday, the Govt has still to learn that particular lesson. I can guarantee that Michel Barnier will dismiss all the UK's proposals contained in the White Paper when it is presented to them.

The UK should abandon all negotiations and proceed at full speed with all the preparations necessary for a future under WTO rules. I think only then - once the EU realise that the UK is deadly serious about a 'no deal' scenario - that the EU might, might, at the last minute, consider adopting a more pragmatic approach. Can the EU afford to blow off 40bn euros?

10th July. Day 4 at Pamplona - and still no shortage of willing volunteers..! (Introducing half a dozen or so bulls into Christmas shopping crowds might move things along a bit, no?)

9th July. Day 3 of San Fermin - and they're off again!

Russia has been in the news recently (World Cup - there, I've said it!) and I heard a snatch of "Oh fields, my fields" ('Polyushko-polye'), that most evocative of songs, on the radio earlier this morning that stirred memories of the vastness of the steppes. Written I think in the 1930s, it served to stimulate love of Mother Russia during the Great Patriotic War (aka WWII)..
I make no apologies for including one of the world's great anthems - one that's guaranteed to stir the blood of even the 'couchiest' of couch potatoes within earshot. (and I speak as someone whose national anthem tends towards the 'dirge' end of the scale! Tin hat on - awaiting incoming!) Needless to say, my own politics are a million miles away from those associated with this anthem:

Both of my regular readers will be aware that "Dark Eyes" is a favourite of mine. In keeping with the current theme, here's a version in Russian, just for a change..!

8th July. We decided to go to Biarritz with Nutty early this morning while it was still fresh - and while there were still parking spaces available. We had coffee on the terrace of the Bleu Café, a favourite of ours on the Grande Plage.. where we watched the surfers and the endless parade of the 'beautiful people'.. The tourist season is getting up to speed. 
Bleu Café, Biarritz


Fat Trot
After that, we took a walk along the sea front and I spotted a new vehicle in town.. It's called a Fat Trot.. and it's a new electric beach scooter that looks like fun and it was developed right here in Biarritz. (a child's scooter in France is known as a trottinette). They're available to rent/buy here - and no licence or helmet is required.

As we left Biarritz, I spotted another new shop out of the corner of my eye - the über cool-looking Deus ex Machina. (they appear to venerate old motorcycles and early Porsche 911s. Gets my vote!). I must have a look another day.   

Here's this morning's encierro from Pamplona..

7th July. Today marks the start of the Festival of San Fermin at Pamplona - made famous a loong time ago by our old friend Ernest Hemingway. He described it vividly in his first novel "The Sun Also Rises". He was a regular visitor to this part of the world throughout his life and its strong identity clearly made a deep impression on him. I wrote up my thoughts on Hemingway - for what they are worth - in an earlier post here.

Each day of San Fermin starts at 8am with the encierro (or the running of the bulls) from the holding pens through the narrow cobbled streets of Pamplona to the arena. The firing of a rocket is the trigger for the release of 6 bulls and 6 steers (who are there simply to guide the bulls). Two and a half minutes of sheer mayhem then ensues as the animals gallop through the white-clad crowds in a headlong dash that finishes at the bullring - where the unfortunate bulls meet their end later in the afternoon. The ancient tradition of running with the bulls is believed to have originated in the 14th century but it has only become an international rite of passage since Hemingway's first novel popularised this traditional festival in 1925.

Feeling brave? Come and join them! Me? I've got a sock drawer to tidy!

Those who prefer to see a level playing field should enjoy this.. and for those who, like myself, feel much sympathy for the bulls and zero for their tormenters, watch this.

5th July. As the Brexit talks grind on and on, it's becoming increasingly clear that neither side in the negotiations is ready and/or willing to negotiate and so it's likely that we're heading for a Major Kong* moment - ie, leaving the EU with no deal.

* Major Kong (memorably played by Slim Pickens) was the B-52 pilot in Stanley Kubrick's black comedy "Dr Strangelove" (1964) who, with a handful of miles to run to his target, was sitting astride a thermonuclear weapon in the bomb bay of his B-52 carrying out last minute repairs to some fried wiring.. when suddenly the bomb bay doors opened and this unforgettable shot followed! 

4th JulyFirst of all, Happy Fourth of July to Americans everywhere celebrating their National Day.. It's always good to start the day off with goose bumps!
For anyone considering a move to the Pays Basque, I wouldn't pay too much attention to this article. Where to start..? It's full of misconceptions and poor advice - but then, it was co-written by a couple of English estate agents based in Pau. The thing to remember when looking at this area is - that if a particular town or area is seen as expensive or cheap, there's always a reason.
La Grande Plage, Biarritz

In a throw-away line, Biarritz is characterised as "very chic and sometimes a bit snobby..". Maybe because of its high property prices? People can forget that Biarritz is a working town and therefore it's not the kind of place where you should walk back from the beach to your accommodation still in your swimming things and flip-flops, with a wet towel over your shoulder. Snobby? No, far from it.

The idea that you can live at Pau and go to the coast and back for the day throughout the summer is just pie in the sky. Yes, you could do it but would you want to?

And yes, you can find cheaper property inland as long as you'll be content with "sitting outside your new home, glass of local Jurançon wine in hand, and enjoying the great sparkling canopy of stars arching above.” How long would the thrill of that estate agent puffery last? The problem with living inland in a distant village is essentially one of practicality.. Do you want to have to use the car each time you want a baguette, or visit the dentist or do whatever sport or social activity you're interested in? And where maybe your new neighbours could be less than thrilled by outsiders moving into "their" village - and perhaps being seen as partly responsible for driving house prices up? 

Finally, I would take the quoted property values per square meter with a very large pinch of salt. The price per sq m for a house in Biarritz is quoted as 4331€. Here are the results of a search I made just now in Biarritz for houses with a surface area of between 140-150 sq m. Using the 4331€ valuation, that should have produced a list of properties with prices ranging from 606,340€ (140 sq m) to 649,650€ (150sq m). The two that come in under budget are wrecks and would need an arm and several legs spent on them. I think the figure for Biarritz should be nearer 7-9000€/sq m..

The Basque coast is expensive for a reason.. There is a quality of life there.. activities, shops and facilities (not least of which are those to do with health!). It's also a destination - somewhere that attracts retirees from France and elsewhere for that last hurrah. Many of the villages inland are moribund.. and we've known quite a few people (French and British alike) who have only realised the sad truth of that after they'd bought a property there. My advice? Think very hard before moving to a village out in the sticks.
  
1st July. I took Nutty for a walk this morning through the peace and quiet of the shady woods that surround Lac de Mouriscot.. which is to be found about 3km to the south of Biarritz.
Lac de Mouriscot
It's the perfect place to avoid the hustle and bustle of the coast, especially during the season. There's a path that circles the lake and I didn't check my watch but I'm guessing that it takes 30-40 minutes to walk around it. (Park at the Auberge de Jeunesse)
Lac Marion
There's another lake hidden away in the suburbs of Biarritz that's also very pleasant to walk around on a hot day - Lac Marion..

Thursday, 28 June 2018

256. It is the month of June..*

30th June. The humidity this afternoon and early evening grew heavier and heavier until there were numerous rolls of thunder (just enough warning to take the chairs and the umbrella in) and then - sploosh! - the Mother Of All Downpours arrived.. like 100 fire hoses pointing vertically downwards.. 

We took Nutty along to another meeting of the "Naughty Boys Club" (aka Obedience Class!) this morning. I think the centime is slowly starting to drop with him.. The best part of it takes place in the first 10 minutes or so when they're all let off their leads and it ends up as a mass brawl / lick-a-thon / love in / battle for dominance.

For those planning on visiting France by car in the next few weeks, you should be aware that as from 1st July, the national speed limit on secondary roads (without a central separator - so dual carriageways should not be affected) will be 80km/h (50mph) instead of 90km/h (56mph). This change affects about 400,000 km of the nation's roads and as you may imagine, this traffic calming measure designed to reduce road fatalities has caused a storm of protest.

What do I think? To be honest, this new limit should make driving on these classic French D roads - like the one below - a far more pleasurable experience and it might just discourage any budding Romain Grosjeans out there from trying to overtake where perhaps they shouldn't.   Might...
29th June. We'll be celebrating another marital milestone today.. Where have the years gone? (Wish we could rewind and do it all again!) We went to one of our long-standing favourites - the traditional Basque Hotel Arraya (a former 16th century former hospice) at Sare - and enjoyed lunch on their shaded terrace. (Look at the photos here

 Here's a John Denver piece that fits the bill!
 *.. the month of leaves and roses, When pleasant sights salute the eyes and pleasant scents the noses.
Nathaniel Parker Willis

19th June. In a perfect world, the above quote would be true. However, read on, dear Reader!

Things have been hectic here in the Pays Basque this month. We were away at Lake Annecy for the first week (still haven't had time to download the photos) and then with only a day or two's break, we were honoured to host three generations of an American family who had come all the way from Columbus, Ga, on a sentimental journey. I'll explain later.. 

First though, to the pale green waters of Lake Annecy. Having deposited Nutty at the kennel (he's not to be trusted in company at the moment) we set off, aiming to break the journey at this hotel near Le Mont-Dore, about 6,000 feet up in the Auvergne. It was here that we made the mistake of ordering truffade.. a heavy cheesy potato dish (here's the description). If you'd spent the day digging ditches - or were planning on doing so - then this would provide the ideal way of replacing those lost calories. As it was, we both felt as if we'd been depth-charged and we lurched off to our room, both riding very low in the water for a disturbed night's sleep.  

The next day we headed east for Annecy. This involved a circumnavigation of Lyon - and it was here that I discovered (the hard way) that it might have been a good idea to update the car's GPS software prior to leaving home - as we found ourselves adrift on roads that, according to the GPS, didn't exist!

Once we put Lyon behind us, we soon arrived at Annecy - and I have to say that the lake looked stunningly beautiful, its impossibly pale green waters dotted with sailing boats against a backdrop of towering mountains. It was noticeably less humid there than in the Pays Basque. While I could dream of passing my days sailing/rowing on the sublime waters of Lac d'Annecy (I've included a selection of images here), the reality is that (in my opinion) the lake is all - the town has a very picturesque old centre that's aimed squarely at the tourist trade - and it's surrounded by a less picturesque and more modern town composed of anonymous looking blocks. We found that the prices were high for day-to-day items.. such as 2 coffees - 8.80€. These are Parisian prices. A quick look at property prices nipped in the bud any thoughts we might have had for finding a house there. 

Wondering how Nutty is? He's taken to stationing himself by open windows to survey 'his' territory.. This was him (above) yesterday evening..
The "Rocade"

All too soon it was time to head back to the south west. We had initially planned on doing the return journey in one go - but as Nutty's kennel closed at 6.30pm, it was too much of a gamble to plan on a trouble-free and speedy passage around the Rocade - Bordeaux's notorious ring road that's all too easily prone to mammoth tailbacks. 

So it was that we decided to give ourselves a treat on the way home by having a stop-over at a Logis Hotel at Perrier, in the Auvergne (It was called la Cour Carrée). The owners had converted an old farm with a courtyard into a small "Designer" hotel with 3 bedrooms. Wherever we looked, there was evidence that someone with excellent taste and a keen eye for design had been at work. It was run by a couple - and the cooking was wonderful..(step through the photos here) If you ever find yourself south of Clermont-Ferrand and in need of a great place to stay, look no further.

Long-suffering readers of this blog might recall that I'm involved with an association concerned with commemorating a WWII evasion network (the Comet Line) set up to repatriate Allied airmen shot-down in northern France, Belgium and the Netherlands. They were taken in charge, housed, fed, clothed, issued with false papers and guided down to the Pays Basque from where they would be led over the Pyrenees to freedom. Some 288 Allied airmen (and others) passed through the Pays Basque and only two lost their lives while in Comet's care. On the night of 23rd December 1943, a 10-strong group of guides and evaders (four of whom were B-17 Flying Fortress aircrew) attempted to cross the river Bidassoa, the river that separates France from Spain. Due to a number of cumulative factors, 2nd Lt James F Burch, USAAF, and Count Antoine d'Ursel (former head of Comet in Belgium) were carried away by the strong current and were assumed drowned. We erected a memorial on the riverside to Jim Burch 2 years ago.

2nd Lt Lloyd Stanford, USAAF
2nd Lt Lloyd Stanford's photo
taken for his false ID card
while he was 'on the run'
One evader who did manage to make a successful river crossing that night was 2nd Lt Lloyd Albert Stanford, USAAF (right). Prior to the inauguration of the riverside memorial, I spent hours in a nugatory search for any of his descendants in the hope that they might be able to attend the ceremony. Imagine my surprise when, out of the blue a few months ago, I was contacted by Martha, his daughter, 75 years after the events of that tragic night. After exchanging a few emails, I was delighted to hear that she had decided to bring a 10-strong group comprising three generations of family from Columbus, Georgia all the way to the Pays Basque to follow in the footsteps of the pater familias. (And, in the ultimate irony, she told me that she had actually been in France on holiday when we had the inauguration ceremony in April 2016!).

We in the association put a programme together that would show the family as much as we could of the father's passage through the Pays Basque in the time available. Unfortunately, we hadn't counted on Mother Nature! (more of which later)

Mr Michel Hiriart, Mayor of Biriatou
The Memorial site
We met the genial Mayor of Biriatou (right) for introductions at the Town Hall, after which we drove slowly along the 4 kilometers of winding track that wraps itself around the valley sides that became narrower and narrower and ran perilously close to steep drop-offs as it approached the well-hidden memorial site (left) - where we had a very moving ceremony of remembrance. There is always something about this location that speaks to me and the playing of the "Star Spangled Banner" and the "Marseillaise" there brought the goose bumps out in spades - I don't think I was the only one either!

The plan for the following two days was that we would walk over the same route across the mountains that the evaders had taken that fateful night and on the following day we would show them the inland route that was developed in 1943 following a wave of arrests.

Enter Mother Nature..! For the next 2 days we had rain in all its guises - from light showers through straightforward downpours to monsoon-like conditions. Plan B was quickly dusted off (code for 'made up on the spot'!) and away we went. At one point, the family found themselves standing in the cellar of the 'safe' house - in the very place where the father had hidden himself in 1943.. an emotional moment as can be imagined. Despite the wet weather, I think Martha and her family went away having seen as much as the conditions allowed. We had hoped to have them take part in a river crossing but the river Bidassoa was raging in full spate with standing waves and a strong current and so reluctantly it was not to be.

It was a wonderful few days, full of laughter, emotion, songs and memories and a powerful reminder, if one were needed, of the strong ties that unite our countries.

As they say in Scotland - haste ye back!

Meanwhile, back in today's world: I forgot to mention that Nutty's usual exercise area - the grassy area behind the Plage des Cavaliers at Anglet has been illegally occupied since 17th June by 120 caravans belonging to a group of travelling people (aka gypsies) - masquerading as an evangelical organisation. The local council has tried to have them evicted without any luck so far.