Tuesday, 2 June 2020

280. Summer's here (almost)

30th June. We were out this evening at Saint-Jean-de-Luz to celebrate the passing of a major marital milestone - and we'd booked a table outside at Zoko Moko - a chic restaurant discreetly situated in a quiet street away from the hullabaloo of the nearby Place Louis XIV.. Zoko Moko is not somewhere to go to if your fancy is for a large steak that overhangs the plate with a mountain of pommes frites balanced precariously all around.. (although there is a time and a place for that!). No, the standard of cuisine is of a refinement rarely seen - beautifully cooked and a joy to the taste buds. To single one dish out - we had lotte (monk fish) at one stage - it had been roasted crisp on one side and yet the inside was perfection
Terraced vines at the Domaine Mourguy, Ispoure
I must mention of the red Irouléguy that I had - it was a name new to me - Domaine Mourguy - from Ispoure (outside Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port). This was liquid velvet on the tongue. I don't think it will be long before we visit the farm. It left our usual Gorri d'Ansa Irouléguy in the shade. Domaine Mourguy is run by the brother and sister duo Pierre and Florence Mourguy at Ispoure.. congratulations to them! More on wines from the South West here (the name of Alain Brumont is one to remember for Madiran
28th June. The village of Biriatou is often neglected by visitors to the Pays Basque - and even by those who have lived in the area all their lives. It's said that if you find yourself in Biriatou, you either live there - or you're lost. It sits high up on the bluffs overlooking the Bidassoa river that separates France from Spain - and while the village could be described as a ribbon development along the river for some 4km, its actual centre is the Pays Basque in microcosm. 

In close proximity - all within a few yards, there's the church of Saint-Martin, the Town Hall, the Auberge Hiribarren* and the Pelote court. It's a charming village with much to commend it. 
* Sadly, the Auberge Hiribarren looked like it had closed for good when I was last there.. a great pity as its central location couldn't be bettered and the views across the Bidassoa into Spain are exceptional.    

26th June.. We were invited for lunch yesterday by our neighbours in Bayonne - but it wasn't here, it was to be at their other house in the country set high up in the hills, through the Pas du Roland, outside Itxassou, and then up and up on a winding single track lane (complete with hairpin bends). It finished here at their stunning Basque farmhouse - with views - as estate agents are wont to say - to die for. The house was in an idyllic position high up on a valley side with a 180° view of a slice of forested Basque mountainside - with one only other farm visible high in the distance at the end of the valley.  

There were eight of us for lunch and we were sat outside in a small stone barn that had two walls removed so we had experience of eating al fresco - plus shelter if it rained.. They were such generous hosts - the bateau was well and truly pushed out.. I think we left at 5.30pm replete, with every nook and cranny filled, riding very low in the water with our thirsts totally assuaged - and still not hungry 18 hours later!      


On Tuesday, R, a friend (a former Coldstreamer) from the Gers (just over 2 hours inland from here) came over with his two dogs. We'd met by chance at a small ceremony at the Cimetière des Anglais (more here) in 2019 and he and his wife had joined us for our annual Comet Line commemorative weekend later in the year. The small cemetery marked one of the two sites where an unnecessary night encounter had taken place (Napoleon having already abdicated) on 14th April 1814 between General Thouvenot's garrison of Bayonne and the Allied forces under the command of Lieutenant General John Hope, and in particular, the 1st Battalion, Coldstream Guards and 1st Battalion, 3rd Foot Guards. This night battle saw the kind of close quarter hand-to-hand fighting of the kind that doesn't bear thinking about. More here from the association "Bayonne 1814". 

Maintenance of these two British military cemeteries (the oldest known to be in existence) is surprisingly provided by support from Regimental funds. I would have thought that the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) should have been charged with that small task - but sadly its remit is confined to those "men and women of the Commonwealth forces who died in the First and Second World Wars."    

Rupert Brooke's poem - "The Soldier" - could have been written with these two small cemeteries in mind.      
R and I had a good day out - after walking the dogs we went to the headland by the lighthouse at Biarritz and had a picnic lunch in some marginal shade under a hot sun! One glass of rosé each was all we could manage in the heat. Afterwards, we drove to the 2 cemetery sites to check on their condition. This is prime growing season for weeds - what with hot sun and rain showers. 

19th June. Politicians love to pretend that someone or something really belongs to us if they tag it the Peoples' whatever. Curiously, this affectation started in the 1930s when Hitler caused the VW Beetle (or Bug in the US) to come into being via a colossal scam that rivalled one of Victor Lustig's.. (aka the man who sold the Eiffel Tower - twice!). The German public were exhorted to make monthly payments towards a new Beetle - which many did - but none were ever delivered to the public before WWII came along. Anyway, be that as it may, Volkswagen = People's Car.      

Then there's the People's Republic of China. Not my flavour of the month right now. Wouldn't Republic of China been sufficient?

Princess Diana morphed swiftly into the People's Princess after her death in 1997 following a typically gushing tribute by Tony Blair, the then PM. 

Instead of asking for a second Brexit Referendum in an attempt to reverse the Parliamentary logjam caused by the outcome of the first one, those asking for a second vote demanded a People's Vote. It implies that the "man in the street" could make a more enlightened decision than those paid to do so at Westminster - plus a People's Vote no longer sounds like a second referendum (if you are hard of thinking).  

The latest example of this outbreak of cosiness comes from who else but the BBC with its podcast series entitled "Spitfire: The People's Plane". I wouldn't advise anyone with an interest in aviation to listen to this as it's tosh of the first water. Somehow the BBC has achieved the impossible - it's managed to turn the story of an inspirational aeroplane from solid gold into the purest of dross. The Spitfire made it into RAF service by the skin of its teeth (it had its detractors) - and then once in service, it outshone the more workmanlike Hurricane by its sheer presence and charisma. 

In this podcast, the Spitfire pilots take a back seat to typists and the like as Tuppence Middleton (her name tells you everything about her you need to know!) explains repeatedly that it was the "best fighter in the world". At various points in WWII, it may have been - but there were several contenders for that title - chief of which was the R-R Merlin-powered P-51D Mustang. This aircraft was undoubtedly in a class of its own. The rate of technological advance - especially in aircraft performance - was staggering in WWII and it should be remembered that the Spitfire first flew in March 1936 whereas the P-51D arrived in theatre some 8 years later in Spring 1944. 

If you know of any more People's Whatevers - please let me know. 

Back to the Pays Basque! (who said "At last.."?) 

17th June. Tomorrow, I'm off to a ceremony commemorating the 80th anniversary of General de Gaulle's broadcast to France on 18th June 1940. 
There's a new word that's come into common currency in the UK - particularly on BBC radio (home of political correctness) - and that's "nuanced". It seems that everything is now nuanced.. as it implies that their reporters have considered all the various shades of grey between the - gasp - black and white extremes. If only..  

Iconic has had its time in the sun.. Surely the time has come for it finally to be put to sleep?

15th June. Yesterday we were out reasonably early to go down to the Grande Plage at Biarritz to have a ringside seat in front of the ocean. It seemed a long time since we'd been to the Bleu Café there - and thinking about it, we worked out it must have been about 8-9 months ago. The usual waiter was there and he recognised us even with our masks on..
Afterwards, we decided to find a restaurant for lunch - somewhere with a terrace preferably and I thought of the Auberge d'Achtal at Arcangues. We sat out of the sun under the platanes and had a rare average lunch. I'd ordered pipérade with jambon de Bayonne. Apart from being unrecognisable as a pipérade (Madame's is the benchmark), it was so salty that I couldn't eat it. Sadly, I can't see us returning there.  
13th June. Louis de Funès was one of France's funniest comedians.. Here he is trying to teach a few gendarmes (one of whom is an officer) 'ow to spik Angliche:
10th June. I've mentioned the Place des Vosges here before as one of Paris's greatest hidden* attractions. If you haven't visited it, if it's still on your "to do" list, then one look at this video should be enough to convince you to go there. Before you do though, book a table for lunch or dinner (19.90€ for 2 course lunch or 33€ for 3 course dinner) at nearby Bofinger, the oldest brasserie in Paris. You can pay more and you can pay less - but I don't think it's possible to eat in such style at these prices anywhere else in Paris. The beauty of it is that after your lunch or your dinner, you can stroll with your lady (or your gentleman) around the Place des Vosges.. only a couple of minutes away. A more romantic setting doesn't exist (in my view). Dress accordingly. 

It's advisable to make a reservation and when booking a table, ask to be seated under the dome - it's by far the best place. If it's your first time there, ask to see the set menu and when the waiter returns to take your order, if you are choosing from the fixed price menu, make sure he knows. (there's more about Bofinger in the restaurant map in the left hand column) If you arrive late, without having reserved a table, don't be surprised if you find yourself seated upstairs. 

* = hidden as in hidden in broad daylight.
7th June. I was down at the usual beach this morning with the hound and the car park was thick with cars.. and people changing into wetsuits. The surf community have their own social networks to alert each other of good surfing conditions - so once the essential order of business had been accomplished, we wandered down to the coastal path to see what was going on. I think there must have been 60 surfers in the water and the waves were of a height that I hadn't seen for months. Perhaps 3 metres high? Difficult to tell. There were groups of people on the beach warming up with the kind of movements associated with footballers..
.. and there were people arriving with surf boards on bicycles, motor scooters and I even saw a Renault Clio (a small car) with a surf board inside! And with all the windows closed too.   

2nd June
. Gary Larson is one of my favourite cartoonists - and here's why:

Very few makers of videos about Biarritz manage to escape the sea front - but here's one who starts with a relaxed stroll about the Place Clemenceau before moving down to the Plage de la Côte des Basques and continuing on to the Plage du Port Vieux - then on around the coast to the Rocher de la Vierge. The walkway to the statue is usually closed off when there's major storm brewing as the seas here can be quite spectacular. At 23:25, the golden expanse of the Grande Plage is revealed.. with the supremely elegant terracotta shape of the Hotel du Palais in the hazy distance. Our favourite café (Bleu Café) shows up at 27:56 - where you have a grandstand view of the waves. The viewpoint then walks around the seaward side of the Hotel du Palais to arrive at the Plage du Miramar. After which follows the jewel in the crown - a visit to the Hotel du Palais at 32:17. 

As evening falls, the softly lit Hotel du Palais makes you believe that anything is possible. The tour resumes at the foot of the Rue Gambetta.. an area dotted with wine bars, cafés, restaurants, individual shops and the ever-present real estate agents - plus the indoor market - and Bar Jean.. another of our favourites. It appears that this was filmed during the last week of July as people - dressed in white and red and hot to trot - are boarding buses to travel to nearby Bayonne to take part in the Fêtes de Bayonne.. 

Saturday, 2 May 2020

279. Into the unknown..

31st May. Here's a short video that shows two of our favourite places to walk the dog now that we're free to roam further than 1 km from home: first, the coastal footpath heading south from Anglet towards Biarritz - and then the forest at Pignada..
When I was down with the pooch at the field behind the beach this morning, I spotted a group of people practising Tai Chi.. it all looked a bit "New Age" to me. Here's another group in the Jardin Publique, Bayonne.. Not sure my creaky old knees would allow me to do this anyway:
We continued the blitz on the garden this morning so that we'll be all ready for summer - Madame tried her steamer on some discoloured paint with no joy - before switching to the Kärcher pressure washer (under instruction!). I then brought out the hedge trimmer and gave a hedge a short back and sides.. 

We're now both soaked and covered in muddy back-splatter - but the garden and the terrace should be bone dry again in ½ hour and Nutty can be let out again to pester his lizards!

30th May. To spare you the tedium of having to read through all 279 posts here (!), I've included (at no charge!) an excellent review of the Pays Basque here..

An oldie (heard on the radio this morning) that's full of 60s optimism is Gilbert Bécaud's L'important c'est la rose (from 1967 - the year that Madame and I collided!).. Lyrics in Angliche here
Here's a little-known factoid for the next time it goes quiet in the snug: did you know that Neil Diamond's 1980 single "Love on the Rocks" was co-written by Gilbert Bécaud? (his version here)

One event that, along with the arrival of the swallows, heralds the imminent start of summer (at last!) is the installation of our plancha on the terrace. It sits in the garage over winter, protected by a coating of grease, but today was the day of the annual dragging-out ceremony.. I don't know what it is but it seems to get heavier with each year that passes - and it was already heavy to start with! I cleaned off the winter dust and cobwebs - and wiped the wooden parts over with boiled linseed oil and now it looks like new again. I also oiled our teak garden chairs. I've not been able to find linseed oil here - I'm using a bottle (bought in England at least 12 years ago) that miraculously re-appeared in the garage last year - and it works a treat.      

This is one that stays forever fresh - the incomparable Charles Aznavour with "La Bohème"..
We noticed a couple of evenings ago that the swallows were back - swooping, darting and chasing each other at breakneck speed around the roofs and chimneys with that so-distinctive twittering.. 

This classic Dire Straits song - "Romeo and Juliet" - has long been a favourite of mine..
Here's an astonishing piece of virtuosity by Laura Lāce, a young Latvian guitarist.. as she tackles Vivaldi's "Summer" in a way that no-one could ever have foreseen: 
29th May. I was returning from the beach this morning with the hound - when I found myself behind an emergency plumber's white van. I was idly looking at it - half-thinking of other things - when the centime dropped and I suddenly realised that yes, the French do have a sense of humour. The name of the plumber's business was S.eau.S.. 

27th May. I took a ride along the Nive yesterday almost as far as Ustaritz. Its waters were a tempting bottle green and it looked especially inviting. There were quite a few sculling boats out on the water but without my specs I couldn't identify any of the scullers. Very pleasant indeed out there.   

25th May. A few years ago, we were invited to dinner by the friend of a friend, the owner of a stunning Basque house perched on the clifftops just to the north of Saint-Jean-de-Luz. I doubt if its setting could be equalled - the house overlooked the restless expanse of the sea out to the west and north - with the only sound being the sea's rhythmic shushing as it lapped endlessly onto the property's private beach down below. (I should have worked harder at school!☺)
To the rear, there was an uninterrupted view of La Rhune, the emblematic mountain that dominates the Côte Basque with its familiar outline.. 
After dinner, I excused myself and stepped out on to the front terrace to watch the sun going down (I lit a cigarillo - yes, I smoked the odd one in those days) in that velvety windless dusk. What a stunning view.. I could get used to that!   

24th May. Another walk through the Pignada woods with the pooch this morning. I was looking at the maritime pines - they have slim elegant trunks, often with no branches until at least a height of 20 metres (60ft) from the ground is reached. None of them grow straight up either - they all seem to grow 10° or more off the vertical but always in a different sense to their neighbours. At ground level, ferns were shooting up past 2 metres in height - with more to come. Even with the occasional jogger pounding through, it's still a remarkably peaceful place - although I did hear one jogger as she approached: she had earpieces in connected to a phone strapped to her arm - and she was in full auto-jabber mode. I can't imagine anything worse. I'm afraid I'm not part of this mobile phone generation - I have one - but it gathers dust somewhere in the house.  

By the way, the Jardin Publique (opposite the theatre in Biarritz) used to be home to some mighty trees - but sadly, many of the larger specimens were blown down during the big storm (Tempête Klaus) in 2009. It used to be one of the few places with guaranteed shade where you could find respite from the sometimes fierce summer heat. The loss of these great trees changed the whole character of the Jardin Publique for a few decades.      

It's always nice to hear an outsider's view of your own town - so sit back and enjoy this stroll around Bayonne. Thanks to Arnie Jacobsen (a good Danish name by the sound of it) for this one!
22nd May. I've just discovered that all the time I've been making my favourite summer drink, without knowing it, I've been making a Daiquiri.. See what I wrote on 3rd May..  

21st May. I took Nutty, our cocker spaniel, to the woods at nearby Pignada this morning - and what a pleasure it was to walk in silence beneath these tall trees under blue skies. For the past 2 months I'd been walking him around Bayonne - across one bridge over the Adour and then back home via a different bridge. It stayed within the limits (just!) set by the government (1km radius from home for a max of one hour) but having to repeat that same walk every day wasn't the most inspiring thing - but needs must. 
I'd forgotten just how pleasant it was to walk in the Pignada woods - I really must take my camera there next time. There are many maritime pines that have grown to an immense height but I've yet to see any sign of the red squirrels that I'm lead to believe are native to this area. 

14th May. Had my hair cut today while wearing a mask.. I didn't feel much like Zorro..

10th May. Biarritz enjoys a spectacular frontage onto the Atlantic - and understandably, most videos of the town show the same familiar seafront images. It's a pity because the architecture of the town is almost a time capsule of its celebrated past when, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it was the preferred destination for the crowned heads of old Europe - and the rich and famous. Many of its extravagant and oversized seaside properties were constructed in a variety of outlandish and fantastical styles (think Hollywood-sur-Mer) that could easily be used as a backdrop to a Rudolph Valentino film or an F Scott Fitzgerald novel.. It's hard to find a video of Biarritz that actually shows anything behind the seafront. This is the best I can come up with - start at 2.12:

I made this short video a few years ago that shows the breadth of architectural styles to be found in Biarritz.. (plus a few favourite places tagged on the end!)
A few days ago, the French PM announced a progressive relaxation of the confinement measures that came into force here in mid-March. Our reaction? As we're both retired, there's not the same imperative to rejoin society at large. There's also no vaccine on the horizon either - so as we're both in the 'at-risk' age group and Madame has ongoing health issues, we intend to carry on as we have been for the past 6-7 weeks. Many of our friends intend to do the same. I think the driving force behind the proposed relaxation measures is largely economic - but as we are no longer in the workforce, we're exempt from that. If people wish to start going out, seeing friends, having BBQs, street parties, and all the rest of it - they're at liberty to do so of course - but we won't.

6th May. Two hours to the north of us lies Arcachon - a prime seaside destination for the people of nearby Bordeaux.. Here it is during confinement..
And here's what Biarritz looked like a month ago under confinement.. Very odd to see all the hotspots so deserted:

5th May. What with the recent heat, interleaved with a few showers, the garden has been growing like crazy.. I've just spent half the afternoon up a wobbly ladder trying to cut back shrubs and bushes that were making a bid for freedom. I had to stop about ½ hour ago to cool down with a frosty San Miguel from the fridge in the garage. It's a tough job etc etc.. 

4th May. Temp was in the low thirties today and the forecast was convinced that a thunderstorm was due this evening - I didn't think it seemed likely - but just half an hour ago, we had a flashing night sky, followed by rumbles a-plenty and a good showering of rain.

3rd May. Forecast is for 33°C (91°F) here tomorrow..

Here's a reminder of our part of the world in happier times..
These split screen videos have become all the rage on YouTube since the world has been in lock-down. Here's one that resonates with me - Harrison Sheckler organised 300 people from 15 different countries to come together to participate in a beautiful virtual rendition of that great song "You'll Never Walk Alone" (paroles en français ici) from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, "Carousel" (1956). Enjoy! (No extra charge for playing it twice!)
Harrison Sheckler - take a bow! I've lost track of how many times I've played this..

It was a day of 'firsts' today.. I wore my shorts for the first time this year (and yes, I did warn the neighbours), then we had lunch outside on the terrace for the first time, and it was so hot we needed the umbrella - another first - and finally, this evening, I made myself one my rhum specials for the first time this year: take a long glass, add a fat finger of white rhum from Martinique, then a finger of sugar cane syrup, the juice of a lime and then top it all up with cracked ice.. One glass is perfect.. a second would be disastrous! Four or five more months of this.. I mustn't weaken..!

1st May. As I approached the Place de la Liberté in front of the Town Hall (right) in Bayonne this morning I spotted about 10 people conducting a ritual "May Day manif" (demonstration) there. They were walking in a circle maybe 30 yards across and as I neared them I could hear the mumblings of their discontent. They really don't understand how lucky they are to live in such a blessed part of France - but that truth cuts no ice with these perpetual grumblers.   

The community of Anglet sits between Bayonne and Biarritz and the three were recently merged together into an intercommunal structure (based on Biarritz and Bayonne) known as the agglomeration of the Pays Basque (consisting of 158 communes). Anglet is a convoluted tangle of streets with no clear pattern - all lined with the characteristic white-washed red-shuttered Basque houses. For a driver, it's a real challenge to acquire the mental road map but after 12 years, I think I've almost got it! Maybe..

Here's how the normally vibrant town of Anglet appeared during the Coronavirus confinement in April 2020:
I can't remember a time when we entered the month of May with such a sense of foreboding, unease and a lack of hope. Who would have thought that, just a few short months ago, many thousands of us would not be alive to greet the summer.

The world has changed - all that we knew is now history. For those of us who are retired, staying at home is do-able, without too much stress. However, for those who are still working, I think they're going to be experiencing a sea-change in the way their lives are organised in future. For some, they're going to find that their jobs have evaporated. This crisis has revealed so many dependencies and unforeseen links and I'm sure there are still some more earth-shuddering shocks to come. Given time, and if a reliable long term vaccine for the Covid19 virus can be developed, then I think the former order of things may be re-instated - but how much time are we talking about?

In the meantime, here's Oldarra, one of my favourite Basque choirs, with "Maitia Nun Zira":   

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

278. April is the kindest month.*

21st April. Although this painting - Nighthawks - of Edward Hopper's dates from 1942, it appears that we were practising social distancing even then:
Nighthawks (1942)
The light in Hopper's work is always interesting - it has a 'stagey' quality..

"House by the railroad" (1925)
One of his quotes: "Maybe I am not very human - what I wanted to do was to paint sunlight on the side of a house."

By 1923, Hopper's slow climb finally produced a breakthrough. He re-encountered Josephine Nivison, an artist and former student of Robert Henri, during a summer painting trip in Gloucester, Massachusetts. They were opposites: she was short, open, gregarious, sociable, and liberal, while he was tall, secretive, shy, quiet, introspective, and conservative. They married a year later. She said of him, "Sometimes talking to Eddie is just like dropping a stone in a well, except that it doesn't thump when it hits bottom." I'm not sure he would have thanked her for that.

18th April. A curious event - the Alarde de Fontarrabie - takes place on 8th September each year just over the border at Fontarrabie and it commemorates the lifting of the French siege of the town in 1638. We've still to make the visit!  
The people express their delight in some strange, not to say bizarre, ways to our eyes.. see what you think - it starts below at 0:40.. (I shouldn't pass judgement - we have Morris Dancers!)
Here's how they celebrate it in nearby Irun - advance it to 2:15... and 9:45.. and finally 55:20 for firing several volleys from their guns..

"Tally Ho"
I've been following the progress of Leo Goolden, a young Brit boat builder on YouTube as he rescues "Tally Ho" (right), a classic (1910) wooden gaff cutter yacht (he paid $1 for it), and slowly brings it back to life in a painstaking restoration in the US. 

Leo's a gifted craftsman with a work ethic to match and he accepts no compromise with his from-the-keel-up restoration. There seems to be nothing that defeats him or that he can't manage. I've been watching this series for well over a couple of years and I find it fascinating and enthralling in equal measure. 

Each of his videos is generally about 15-20 minutes long and and if you just watch one episode each day, you'll soon catch up. He's based at Sequim, Washington State and there's a link to his first YouTube video in the left hand column here under the heading "Useful Links" - the link is called "Rebuilding Tally Ho". I think you'll find it addictive. Don't be tempted to skip ahead!

14th April. Sir Stirling Moss passed away on 12th April at the grand old age of 90.

Moss at the Karussell,
It was often said of Stirling Moss that he was the greatest racing driver never to have won the Formula One World Championship. I once bumped into him in the paddock at Oulton Park and he graciously signed his autograph on the only piece of writing material I had on me - a Swan Vestas match box. For me and I suspect for many others, he would be squeezed into second place in the pantheon of all-time great racing drivers behind the legendary Argentinian Juan Manuel Fangio - but only by the smallest of margins. They both had that matchless ability to drive a car to its absolute limits while at the same time treating their fellow competitors with courtesy and respect. Driving others off the track, ramming them or carrying out other underhand tactics didn't feature in their driving styles. (No need to name names - we all know who we're talking about)
Stirling Moss and Denis Jenkinson en route to winning the 1955 Mille Miglia 
Moss and Jenkinson set the all-time record for the Mille Miglia (yes, 1000 miles!) by winning it at an average speed of 99mph. It must be borne in mind that the event was staged on public roads that weren't closed. Moss said later that they were hitting speeds of 170-180mph (275-290km/h) in places. They finished 32 minutes ahead of a highly creditable performance by Fangio in second place, who drove unaccompanied.

Here's a wonderfully atmospheric Shell documentary film of the 1955 Belgian Grand Prix at the magnificent Spa Francorchamps circuit. It was from an age when public roads were often converted into temporary circuits with the addition of a few straw bales. The film covers the relaxed Saturday practice and then the Grand Prix itself (all 324 miles of it) on the Sunday in which Fangio, Moss and Kling were to drive the superlative Mercedes Benz W196 with its fuel-injected straight eight engine.
There's a refreshing absence of the commercialisation, marketing and media hype that regrettably infests the sport today. Spectators spectated - they didn't attire themselves in clone outfits from their preferred team. The drivers didn't sit in their cars in the pits during practice watching computer diagnostics or live TV coverage and there were no leggy umbrella girls on the grid. No team radios or telemetry from the cars to the pit wall either. The only driver aids back then were the steering wheel and the accelerator, clutch and brake pedals. No DRS or unnecessarily complex hybrid-engined cars..
Moss winning in characteristic style at Monaco in 1961 
Races were won and lost where they should be - out on the track - not in the pit lane - unlike today where pit crews can routinely change all four tyres in less than 3 seconds - a laudable achievement - but is it racing? The teams didn't have ultra-lavish motor homes provided by sponsors - instead they were lodged in local garages - with the locals being treated to the sight and sound of thoroughbred racing cars being driven on public roads to and from the circuit. Drivers raced wearing polo shirts or, in Fangio's case - a T-shirt. And not one baseball cap to be seen! No carbon fibre wings to be broken in the rough and tumble of the first corner.. just aluminium bodywork that responded to the mechanic's hammer. Today's racing is faster - that's for sure - but is it any better?

Some time after Moss's career ending accident at Goodwood in 1962, he was asked what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. He said, "I have no qualifications to do anything. As a teenager, before I started racing seriously, I’d done a couple of things in the hotel trade – night porter, working in the kitchens – but if you know nothing about anything, there are only two jobs available to you: estate agent or Member of Parliament."

Rather than read my inadequate efforts to describe his life and his exploits, what could be better than to listen to the great man himself - here's Stirling Moss talking about two of the greatest races he took part in - the 1955 Mille Miglia and the 1961 Monaco GP: Podcast 1 & Podcast 2. More tributes from the world of racing here and here..
Stirling Moss 1929 - 2020
Thank you for the way you always conducted yourself - with such inimitable style, grace and courage. RIP Stirling.

Now that the 100% electric Tram'bus is in service on the Côte Basque, it's time to have a look back at the earliest tramways that connected Bayonne with Biarritz. The first steam trams looked like they'd been assembled by someone in the dark - without the benefit of the instructions.. but, despite that - or perhaps because of it - they have an enormous charm all of their own.

(Thanks to Guy Lalanne, president of the Jakintza association, for this video)
13th April. Last night we watched Andrea Bocelli's solo performance from the Duomo, Milan, representing a message of love, healing and hope to Italy and the world via live coverage courtesy of YouTube. He sang Panis Angelicus (from “Messe Solennelle” Op. 12, FWV 61) César Franck; Ave Maria, CG 89a (arr. from Johann Sebastian Bach, “Prelude” no. 1, BWV 846) Charles-François Gounod; Sancta Maria (arr. from “Cavalleria Rusticana”, Intermezzo) Pietro Mascagni; Domine Deus (from “Petite Messe Solennelle”) Gioachino Antonio Rossini befoe finishing with Amazing Grace (John Newton). Programme here:

11th April. I took a couple of photos this morning during my hour-long walk with the pooch around Bayonne - looking south across the Adour to its confluence with the Nive.
The confluence of the Adour and the Nive at Bayonne

Once back home, I stitched the two photos together to form the composite image (above) with the help of a little-known Microsoft program - Image Composite Editor - which was simplicity itself to use. It's available in 32 or 64 bit versions - and did I mention it was free? Try it!

By the way, the old barge in the photo above is the Djébelle (right).. and it offers unique chambre d'hôte accommodation with, as they say, a view to die for.

Day 26 - the Lock-Down continues..
Here's a charming video of an off-season visit to Biarritz..
10th April. The Coronavirus pandemic is shaking our global society to its roots with untold thousands having been infected by the virus and thousands of those dying from it. This unseen killer affects so many human activities that we, up until now, have taken for granted - for example, we need to think hard about going outside into social situations that, prior to the outbreak, we wouldn't have thought twice about. I've been reading accounts of those unfortunates who have found themselves "intubated"* in Intensive Care Units where a simple involuntary action such as a cough can inhibit the fundamental ability to breathe - and that alone is enough to induce immediate panic in the patient..

* is there an uglier word in the English language than this? 

Who would have thought just a few short months ago that the world as we know it was about to be stood on its head? The number of deaths in the World Trade Centre tragedy was appalling - but now each evening, we're being told the latest death toll - the cumulative figures are truly frightening.

There is some truth in this quote: "A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic." (attributed to Josef Stalin) but, make no mistake, every death from Coronavirus is mourned by family, relatives and friends and the situation for them is made worse by the fact that the patients can't be visited either before and after death. To make matters worse, the funerals are dealt with expeditiously and without ceremony.

One of the lessons that may be learned after the pandemic is over is that we can no longer treat the world as a global village. The availability of mass air travel is certainly a key factor in facilitating the spread of infectious diseases, often resulting from insanitary food practices. I hesitate to point a finger at China - but until the pandemic, I had no idea what a "wet market" was. If you wish to find out more, take a look at YouTube if you must. Be warned - I'll say no more. 

This next piece is from Melanie Phillips and it addresses the uncomfortable truths about the West's relationship with China:
The coronavirus pandemic is the direct outcome of appalling behaviour by the Chinese communist regime. Yesterday, the Commons foreign affairs committee reported that the fight against the virus has been hampered by China’s lies. The committee’s chairman, Tom Tugendhat, said China had “manipulated vital information about the virus in order to protect the regime’s image”.
Despite all this, it has been posing as a humanitarian superpower by sending medical supplies to desperate countries. Britain is accordingly importing from China ventilators and virus test kits. But will they work? Numerous countries have complained that the Chinese equipment is defective.
Before this crisis the government subscribed to the view that any threat China posed to the West was containable. Through doing business with it, the West might turn it into a regular player on the international stage.
If that was ever true, it certainly stopped after the accession of Xi Jinping as general secretary of the Chinese communist party and the country’s president.
For Xi’s aim is to make China the leading power in the world, and all its dealings are merely a means to that end. As Tugendhat says: “China is determined to create a new world order with itself at the top.”
So why has the West turned a blind eye to all this? According to Tugendhat, British and western attention was elsewhere: with the EU, or fighting Islamists in Afghanistan. Its eyes were off that particular ball.
And so it allowed its economies to become dependent on China.
Will the government emerge from this crisis determined that Britain should regain self-sufficiency and end its dependency on China? Or will it, deeming the scale of the challenge too enormous, take the lethal path of least resistance and short-term benefits just as before?
No one can yet say how this crisis will change Britain. But towards China, any pretence is now over.
Throughout all of this, it must always be borne in mind that while Western politics operate in multiples of 5 years (the length of most democratically-elected governments), the Chinese take a longer view - decades and multiples thereof.

Our thoughts go out to those who have lost a loved one due to this pandemic.

7th April. Are there any more worrying words to a wife than her husband wandering into the garden saying "I think I might do a bit of strimming.."?

5th April. Here's the Coleman Hawkins Quintet (with Oscar Peterson on piano) - for when the fire's burning low:

3rd April. One positive to emerge from the Coronavirus pandemic is that bull fights must surely be cancelled in Spain (and here in SW and S of France). Viva los toros!

Sad to hear of Bill Withers passing today. He left some great songs behind to remember him by, including, among others, this one (featured before here) and this. RIP Bill..

1st April. A Basque friend has often mentioned the "abandoned village" of Aritzakunhere between  Bidarray (Pays Basque) and Elizondo (Navarre) in the beautiful Baztan valley and I've always been curious about it. Looking at the map, it's just 1½ km due south of the Col des Veaux, one of the places where escaping Allied airmen used to cross into Francoist Spain in WWII, led by their Basque guides (Comet Line). I really must go up there once this confinement has been lifted. Meanwhile, here's a video that shows how once a year, those born in the now-deserted village return to celebrate their roots - very important here. It was abandoned in the 1980s..

* April gets you out of your head and out working in the garden.