Thursday, 1 November 2018

261. Autumn marches on.

11th November. Back from walking the dog alongside a surging sea and, on returning home, I was faced with a sight on the television that turned my stomach.. a black-clad group of world leaders walking in a gaggle along a Parisian boulevard towards the Arc de Triomphe. Maybe I'm out of step with popular opinion but I've long held the view that it's politicians who cause wars and the sight of their faux-sombre faces as they 'paid homage' was too much to take - especially as they saw fit to preface it with a glitzy dinner last night at the Orsay Museum. (it wouldn't do to pass up an opportunity of a free feed would it?) The only people who should be remembering the dead are not those who cause wars but the military - those who have to do the politicians' dirty work - and the families of the bereaved. It is only they who have to confront, and pay, the true cost of war - and it's at times like these that we should pay our respects to those of the military - both dead and living - who stepped forward at times of national need to serve their country - unlike the politicians, who customarily take a step to the rear. Am I alone in thinking this? 
10th November. At around 7.20pm (UTC + 1) this evening, an asteroid the size of a house, and travelling at 4 miles per second, will whiz past Planet Earth - missing us by an estimated 237,000 miles. This appears far enough away until you think of its speed in standard astronomical units (light years) - then it sounds far more threatening as its miss distance will be less than 1½ light-seconds away - which is uncomfortably close. Gulp. Odd to think that everything we know hangs on such small margins.. You can watch it here with the Virtual Telescope Project from 7pm.

9th November. It's usually about this time of the year that we light the fire - and think about putting one of our favourite videos on. I think we could well be in for an evening at the foot of the Ngong Hills:
Health Warning: A few lines on Brexit. Juliet Samuel writes for the Daily Telegraph and she has produced a stinging (& well-deserved) one minute critique of Theresa May's shambolic handling of the negotiations. (don't forget to turn on the volume)

8th November. The questions have started - "Any idea what you'd like for Christmas..?" Truthful answer? No.. Probably the only thing I'd really like is more time between Christmasses. They seem to be coming along more frequently these days. Must be a sign of the times. Then there's the question of what can I get for Madame. I walk around town and fail to get inspired. I prefer to do my Christmas shopping in November - as it takes the desperation out of it! There's nothing worse than going out on Christmas Eve having to find something that doesn't look like the last chicken in Sainsburys!

Bayonne (& the rowing club) looks nice in the winter sun here:
7th November. On Sunday we took a drive out to the stunningly beautiful Les Aldudes valley to see the autumn colours but I think we were a couple of weeks too early. As we climbed higher and higher we started to see snow lodged in gullies high up on the hills and, far off in the distance, the top of the Pic du Midi was completely covered in snow. We finally achieved a long held ambition of mine which was to visit Urepel - a small village that I had always thought might be as far from Calais as it's possible to go and still remain in mainland France. (Just checked - it's actually Menton that's the furthest)
We're having some work done in the kitchen by someone who comes from this valley and, speaking of restaurants in that area, he told us to try this place.. They've not heard of nouvelle cuisine here.

There's also a Logis hotel - St-Sylvestre (above) with a restaurant that's long been on my 'to do' list. (Top tip: don't forget the elasticated waist trousers..)

Here's a short video about the branding of the cattle* in Urepel and their subsequent journey back up the mountain to their summer pastures. 

* they seem completely unconcerned by the process.

3rd November. A cold start to the morning today and mist lay on the river as I drove with the dog out for a mid-morning walk through the woods. Major advantage - he didn't come back soaking wet from here! If I'd still been rowing, it would have been an uninspiring and damp start to the day in the mist.

2nd November. Here's a glimpse of the future.. think these boards fitted with hydrofoils will be all over the beaches down here next year:

1st November. Today being la fête de la Toussaint (All Saints day), it's a public holiday here in France, despite it being a secular state. Traditionally, it's the day when families return, like so many spawning salmon, to their natal village to pay homage at the graves of their loved ones - usually with a bunch of chrysanthemums*. 

Bearing in mind that in France, as in many other countries today, the descendants of those resting in peace have often moved far from their spiritual home, the days surrounding Toussaint see an exodus of elderly drivers, unaccustomed to driving long distances (especially after a good lunch!), out on the roads. For this reason, Toussaint is associated with a peak in the number of road accidents. This year, as Toussaint falls on a Thursday, many people here will be taking a day of holiday (known as a pont - or a bridge) - thus finishing up with a 4 day weekend. If I have to be out on the roads in the afternoon, I try to keep well clear of cars driven by anyone wearing a hat! Say no more!

* Chrysanthemums are traditionally associated with cemeteries in France, so it's not a good idea to offer them to your hostess when invited out.

I mentioned a day or two ago about the trees on Allées Paulmy being trussed up in anticipation of the roadworks necessary for the new Tram'bus service - well, here they are! You could be forgiven for thinking it must be a slow news day here - but as it's Toussaint, everywhere's closed and it's grey and wet.

Madame has just opened a tin of cassoulet* (below) for lunch. (It's said that sniffy Parisian chefs are fond of saying that the only kitchen implement required for 'cuisine du Sud Ouest' is a tin opener!) I spotted a half empty/half full (you choose) bottle of Saint-Pourçain lurking on the kitchen table - so there's hope!

* from here - given to us by some kind neighbours.

I stopped earlier in the year (en route to Provence) at the Aire de Port Lauragais, a service station on the A61 some 30km south east of Toulouse (it's worth making a note of this address). The service station lies at the intersection of the autoroute and the Canal du Midi - and there you'll find La Dinée situated on an island in the marina. It's one of only two privately owned restaurants to be found on the French autoroute network and if, like me, you enjoy the traditional cooking of South West France, then the menu there is the mother lode. Whatever else you do, go there hungry. The cassoulet that we're having in a few minutes comes from the Hotel du Lauragais (map here) and they also supply La Dinée. I'd recommend the La Dinée set menu for 20€70.. starting with the salade Lauragaise (smoked duck breast and duck hearts) followed by the Cassoulet Maison de Castelnaudary (Try as I might, I couldn't finish mine). A nap in the car park afterwards will seem like a very good idea. I'd be surprised if there's a better cassoulet than this anywhere. As you might expect, there's a Confrérie of the cassoulet..

Far be it from me - un Anglais! - to suggest one recipe is better than another as each town around Castelnaudary is proud of its own version of this classic dish. Here's another view on how it should be prepared.

Verdict: Marks out of 10 for the cassoulet? 37! Thick with haricot beans, Toulouse sausageduck confit and richly flavoured with duck fat.. Just the job for a cold winter's day and excellent for keeping the draughts out.
We've just had a few heavy rain showers blow through out of the Bay of Biscay - so I'm hoping that this isn't a foretaste of how the rest of November is going to pan out.

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

260. Off season

30th October. Fascinating fact for when it goes quiet in the snug.. For those of you who, like me, grew up on such stirring stories as "The Battle of the River Plate", it will come as something of a shock to learn - as I just have - that we've been getting it all wrong for decades. In Spanish, the river is known as "Rio de la Plata". Us Anglophones - in our wisdom - called it the River Plate. That film should have been called "The Battle of the Silver River". (That should ensure a few more minutes of silence!)

Preliminary work has been going on for some time now preparing the local road systems in readiness for the launch of the new Tram'bus service (as they're calling it) that is coming to Bayonne. Tram'bus is a battery-powered articulated bus (no overhead wires required) that is planned to enter service on the first of two routes on the Basque coast next year.

Five minutes walk from Pipérade Towers brings me to Allées Paulmy - a very attractive boulevard in central Bayonne that's also a busy traffic artery. It's lined with many mature trees and some substantial houses (left) in the Basque style. There is clearly some Tram'bus-related work programmed to take place here as many of the trunks of the trees have been wrapped in coils of 3" plastic tubing and have been further protected by substantial wooden planks that have been lashed vertically around the trunks over the tubing. This is an occasion when a single picture would have saved me a lot of blah blah! The road visible at lower right is a service road that runs parallel to Allées Paulmy - the dual carriageway just out of shot to the right. I believe the Tram'bus will be routed via this service road - no doubt amid howls of complaint from those who currently use it to park!

This is the proposed new tram'bus:

Bayonne is a very green town with many parks, gardens and some magnificent trees - take a look here at these pictures taken around the historic ramparts on the fringe of the town centre.

28th October. It was c-o-l-d down at the beach this morning with a stiff breeze coming off the sea.. a cold 9°C. The average winter temps here bottom out at 8°C - a fact for which I'm forever grateful! OK, it's not in the same ballpark as Winnipeg or Wisconsin - but nonetheless.. There were quite a few surfers (a good 20+) out there in the uninviting waves too. I was glad of my scarf!

Living, as we do, in town now, our ears are no longer assailed by sporadic gunfire as weekend hunters attempt to blast four-legged and feathered game into next Christmas. These sounds were a regular part of our soundtrack when we first arrived here as we lived further inland in a rural location. One spin-off from all the sound and the fury of the hunt at this time of the year is that many local restaurants (such Oppoca at Ainhoa) start featuring game on their Autumn menus - wild boar, venison, wood pigeon, hare etc. Say no more! (I've mentioned this before - those without very long memories can re-read it here)

Don't misunderstand me - I'm always on the side of the hunted. This (above) looks like a fair fight to me. I've always viewed hunting with a rifle or a shotgun as an unfair contest - but if game has been killed, then I do enjoy eating it. 

27th October. One from 1977 and sounding as fresh as ever:
26th October. At last, the voice of reason - and coming from a surprising quarter too - the German Parliament. I wouldn't argue with a word of Dr Weidel's speech. However, she's a member of the AfD Party - founded in 2013 and now the largest opposition party in the Bundestag. Its policies have tapped into some understandable resentment against the EU - and what it's brought Germany. Unfortunately, so far the anti-EU rhetoric has only emerged from the far Right - there seems to be no cross party support for its policies in the way that UKIP managed in the UK a couple of years ago. And the far Right in Germany includes some strange bedfellows with their demands reminiscent of darker days.. Still, with this speech to the Bundestag, I think she nailed it:
Just had a surprise visit from a large, leather-jacketed policeman while Madame was out at the shops. And no, he wasn't selling calendars! He was a friendly individual and his visit was in connection with my ongoing request for French citizenship.. I think it was in the nature of a 'belt and braces' confirmation that - despite the myriad documents and photocopies I've submitted that certify chapter and verse that I am who I say I am, and that I actually exist as described - that yes, Pipérade is alive and well and living in Bayonne. He asked me to confirm a few basic points - all in French - and then he went off quite happy. (I think!)

Been busy painting garage doors, pruning trees and preparing the garden for winter - quite a few trips to the déchetterie (tip) with sacks of rubbish - as well as covering up the table, & cleaning the plancha and lugging it to the garage.

In recent years, there seems to have been some kind of annual competition for being the first presenter in the televised media to sport a Remembrance Day poppy.. an "I'm more virtuous than you are" thing. I saw the first poppy of 2018 yesterday on Sky TV. This race to be the first signifies what? Remembrance Day should not be an occasion for mindless presenters to display their political correctness. To a simple soul like me, the day for wearing a poppy - and meaning it - is 11th November. Not before and not after. It appears that the poppy has been 'politicised' - at least, according to the BBC (who else) in its guide to the humble poppy..

19th October. I mentioned Shawn James here a few weeks ago - he's a resourceful character who built his own log cabin out in the Canadian wilderness - and I thought I'd put up a couple of his videos that are, to me at least, compulsive viewing. He summed up his philosophy of life on his website thus:
“The problem is you think you have time. The hours have a way of turning into days, the days into weeks, the weeks into years and the years into a lifetime. How different would your life and your memories be today, ten years later, if you had done that?!”
There's also a quote from Mark Twain there as well:
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Mine could be summed up as:
 ".. the more we put into our lives, the better we feel." 
I've long been of the opinion that our "stuff" expands to fit the space available - and then some! The reality is that we don't need more than a fraction of all our accumulated possessions to live a happy and contented life. And watching these videos puts all the hot air and tension of Brussels into perspective. He has an enviable lifestyle.. (and I like his dog!)

18th October. For those Brits whose stomachs churn (and knees jerk) at the financial excesses of the EU - knowing that UK taxpayers contribute 12½% of the EU budget - I wouldn't recommend that you click on this link. The unchallenged corruption that seems to be endemic in the EU goes straight to the heart of why so many voted to Leave.

17th October. I've been following Adrian Holovaty's YouTube channel for some time. He's a gifted player and he's transcribed many great songs for guitar. See what you think:

16th October. There's been some massive flooding in the Aude (at the other end of the Pyrenees) where 18cm (7 inches) of rain - equivalent to 3 months rainfall - fell in the early hours of Monday morning - one village was flooded to a depth of over 6 metres (20 feet) and some unfortunate people were drowned in their own homes. It doesn't bear thinking about. Altogether there have been 11 confirmed deaths with possibly more to follow.

I've tried to keep this blog as free as possible (as much as I'm able) from discussions on the merits or otherwise of Brexit and the associated negotiations but the events of the last few days have brought the EU's negotiating strategy into sharp focus.

From the outset, they selected the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland as the schwerpunkt for making the exit talks with the UK as unhelpful and obstructive as possible (while I'm being polite here, part of me wants to reach for a baseball bat!). I think it's fairly obvious why they're doing so - it's pour décourager les autres and also to ensure that whatever outcome emerges from the exit talks, it will not be in any way advantageous for the UK in comparison to its present position as an EU member state. Depending upon your point of view, you may or may not think that they're being reasonable.

Here's an extract from a think-piece by Dr Sheila Lawlor that neatly encapsulates the situation:
To anyone reflecting on the many thousands of miles of borders between the EU and 19 third countries, the fact that the Irish border has prompted so much political frenzy may seem bizarre: other EU borders are with a variety of third countries, including a motley  collection of states – dictatorships and lands racked by armed struggles, or used as transit points for mass immigration, or for smuggling and the slave trade. By contrast, the Irish border divides two peaceful, democratic neighbours, sharing a common law tradition and the closest ties of culture, history and economy, living in harmony and mutual self-interest and with the Belfast Agreement a matter of practical cooperation – an agreement it should be noted to which the EU was not a signatory.
You can read another paper by Dr Lawlor - "Ruling the Ruler - Parliament, the People and Britain's Political Identity" here.

I think the only winners out of Brexit are those endless political talk shows and commentators who get paid small fortunes to speculate about the speculation. I've had to become very selective about who I listen to these days - otherwise my knuckles would be white all day!
13th October. I don't think I've mentioned this before but, for finishing off a meal on a warm evening, it doesn't get much better than pouring a splash of limoncello over some lemon sorbet. You'll thank me for this! We'll explore the delights of a Sgroppino in another post.

10th October. More info for expats potentially affected by Brexit here and here.

Every now and again, when listening to a conversation in French, I'll pick up an unexpected combination of words that makes me realise that I've just heard a new idiom. So it was when we bumped into a friend in town yesterday and we stopped off in a café for a chat. In the midst of some rapid fire French, our friend said: ça ne casse pas trois pattes à un canard.. I thought whoa there! I've got to find out what that means. 

I asked what it meant literally and what the meaning was. The literal meaning is: that doesn't break three feet of a duck. I was still none the wiser - so I asked what the meaning was. Apparently it means that whatever the subject of the phrase was - it was nothing special. The thinking behind it being that as ducks have only two feet, it would take someone or something truly exceptional to break three. Another mystery solved! ☺

9th October. Looking at the blog hit counter, I see that we're fast approaching 75,000 hits. I remember the early days when getting those first 100 seemed like an impossible achievement! Many thanks to all those of you (OK, both of you!) who have stayed the course!

We'll be making a trip up into the Vallée des Aldudes (here) before too long to see the spectacular autumn colours. The valley extends into Navarre like a blunt finger. Might just stop off at the Auberge Hotel Restaurant Saint Sylvestre while we're up there.

This will give you an idea of what's in store:
 Merci à Mariano pour ce diaporama magnifiquement réalisé
In the absence of any real news, the chattering classes often try to occupy themselves, and distract us, by urging us to adopt the latest 'de-stressing' lifestyles. Their latest attempt is based on yet another fad that's emerged from Scandinavia - we've had koselig from Norway, hygge from Denmark - to which (according to these under-worked journalists) the Swedes responded with lagom - and now it seems we're supposed to copy the Finns and get completely kalsarikänni - or 'pantsdrunk' - at home. Apparently we have to "find our most comfortable underwear – the really holey ones where we’ve forgotten their original colour. Perhaps invest in some wool socks, too. Pantsdrunk is not about getting wasted". This is what you end up writing if you read Media Studies at Uni.

Rest easy - you'll be pleased to know that I won't be illustrating these pages with graphic examples of your correspondent in the Pays Basque getting pantsdrunk! (not that I do that these days) 

8th October. This song - Vivere - is one I often heard while I was working in Italy in the mid-90s. The singers are Andrea Bocelli and Gerardina Trovato:

7th October. The weather is definitely autumnal now - down at the beach this morning, the sea was slate grey and the first hundred metres or so were covered in foam as a blustery onshore wind whipped up the surface. Out to sea, the horizon was dark with showers and so I curtailed the dog's usual walk. Here's a live web cam that shows what Biarritz looks like right now (ignore the annoying advert - it doesn't last long).

We spent the rest of the day lurking indoors as rain lashed down intermittently..

Well, it looks like I (and other British expats in France) won't have to fear the squeal of brakes as a Citroën Traction Avant pulls up outside the house at 3am in the near future. Nathalie Loiseau - France's high flying and impressively qualified Europe Minister (and mother of 4!) - put forward a bill last Wednesday that will unilaterally guarantee the rights of British citizens living in France, who would otherwise immediately become illegal migrants in the event of a no-deal Brexit when their EU citizenship is revoked on 29 March 2019. Personally, I always found that particular 'Project Fear' scenario highly unlikely - but, as I've mentioned here previously, I decided a good while ago that a "belt and braces" approach (applying for dual nationality) would be a wise move if EU expats were ever to be used as political pawns following a breakdown in relations between the EU and the UK.

From the noises coming out of Brussels during the last day or two, it's starting to sound as though someone is paving the way for a soon-to-be-announced rapprochement with the UK over the Brexit negotiations. I think the onward march of the calendar plus the prospect that the UK's £39bn might evaporate from the EU's balance sheets (if there's 'no deal') has started to focus a few minds on the political and economic realities. I hope so, at any rate. The Irish border question has always been nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt by the EU to put a stick in the UK's spokes. Meanwhile:
5th October. We had some English friends over today from L'Isle-Jourdain in the Gers where they have a second home. They were staying here at Hotel Ur Hegian (right on the Franco-Spanish border) and so I thought I'd take them for lunch via a spectacular route up and up into the high country via some steeply winding single track lanes. We ended up at Venta Burkaitz (here - find it and win a prize!). We found a shady spot outside as it was 29° and blue, blue skies. We all had the same menu - river trout, followed by suckling pig, and then various desserts and coffee.. As we were just inside Spain, we handed out some gratuitous punishment to a bottle of Rioja. Thus primed, we then set about solving the more pressing political problems of the day. No problem too challenging!

4th October. I was up in the loft earlier fitting a new filter to a dehumidifier gizmo we have up there that pumps dry air into the house - it's one of those fiddly jobs that you just don't have enough hands for. Anyway, between me cursing under my breath as I tried to tighten some screws in the dark while holding on to a ladder, this memorable scene from "Manhattan" came to mind. I think it's Zubin Mehta and the lush strings of the NY Philharmonic.

2nd October. Out on my ebike this afternoon - along the banks of the Adour until we hit the coast - then a left turn on to the Boulevard des Plages to parallel the coast all the way down to Biarritz where I stopped off at Kostaldea (right) for a cappuccino and to take in the uninterrupted view of the sea. I've been driving past this place for several years now but this was the first time I had occasion to stop there. It won't be the last.

It's usually packed during the season, but today - now that we're in October - there were just a few tables occupied. The way down there is mainly via cycle tracks - which suits me fine - and it was a real pleasure to be out and about in perfect weather - temps in the low 20s (I'm guessing) and low humidity - under the maritime pines with the heat of the sun releasing the smell of the needles.

We were saddened yesterday to hear of the passing of Charles Aznavour - at the ripe old age of 94. There was a time when he appeared regularly on British TV screens and and it was fashionable among the chatterati to mock him. This at a time when he had no competition in the UK (unless you count the late Matt Munro or the dire and equally late Max Bygraves).

Aznavour was an authentic performer, he loved singing to an audience and he'd just returned from giving a concert in Japan. He left school aged 9 and subsequently taught himself at least 5 languages and he could sing in 9. He reportedly wrote over 1200 songs and recorded 91 albums. What a work ethic..! Here's a favourite I remember hearing back in the sixties..
Out of all his songs, this was the one that did it for me - I wouldn't change a word: 

Saturday, 1 September 2018

259. That's it, then.

29th September. Seems like Gary Larson was right on the money with this cartoon! (click on it to enlarge)

26th September. I heard this morning that the raft of plastic waste in the north Pacific - known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch - is twice the size of France.. (don't worry, we're not being left behind - there's a North Atlantic Garbage Patch as well.)

This is a problem that's not going to go away and we can't ignore it. How to contact your elected politician? In the UK? In the US? In France? Please take the time to write to ask what action he/she is taking to address this global problem..
The Bellevue casino as it was..
..and today
We went to the Bellevue, the former casino of Biarritz, at midday to see the "Biarritz 1918 - 2018" exhibition - that was billed as featuring work by Picasso, among others. Look here for a glimpse of Biarritz in all its former splendour.

We both thought this exhibition was grossly overhyped - yes, there was his small - 12" x 9" - painting "Les baigneuses" (below) - but I'm afraid that was the only thing worth seeing. There were letters to Picasso and much (as in practically everything else!) that fell into "the Emperor's new clothes" category - but very little from the great man himself. For an alternative viewpoint, there's a review of the exhibition here. (translation in English)

Disappointed, we headed off to have lunch at Bar Jean.. a long-time favourite of ours next to the covered market - but it was their day for closing.. 
Not our day - so it was a day for pot luck.. We walked down to the Place Sainte-Eugenie and eased into Le Capri.. Madame had moules marinière followed by sardines while I had a pizza.  

25th September. We've been enjoying some wonderful September weather here for the last few weeks - blue skies, temperatures in the mid-twenties, lower humidity - but the clear skies have brought with them cooler evenings. So - this afternoon I stopped off to pick up some logs for the wood-burner we put in a couple of years ago. To be honest, I'm quite looking forward to the first time we light it this autumn.. it gives a real cosy atmosphere. It doesn't get much better than contemplating the flickering flames, suitably encouraged by a glass of you-know-what (above)! (I think this is known as hygge in Denmark)     

23rd September. There's been an exhibition running in Biarritz since 7th July (it finishes on 30th September) entitled "Biarritz 1918 2018" that we've been meaning to get to.. There's this Picasso "Les baigneuses' (left) and many others on display apparently. We thought we'd try today but on arrival in Biarritz earlier this afternoon we discovered that there was a braderie in progress.. This is when the shops have a clear out of all their 'old' stock.. with the pavements cluttered with clothes rails and whole areas of town are closed off. Of course, old stock to them means this season's.. I don't think I have anything that new! I'm proud to own many items of vintage clothing.. such as two Lacoste polo shirts I bought in the US in the mid-1980s! (now 30+ years old!) I like my old favourites and I have to say that shopping is waay down there on my list of things I like to do. So you can see that old and new depends on your perspective!

I've been busy with our annual Comète weekend which was last weekend - it involved a lot of unseen preparation work, then the long weekend itself, and then afterwards tying up all the loose ends. I'll post a few photos in a day or two.

Meanwhile, the mosquitoes have been busy here.. and it appears that they're very partial to a spot of rosbif! (namely  me!) We've not been bothered much - if at all - by mossies in previous years but with the more or less continuous rain we had here for the first 5-6 months of the year, followed by bakingly hot temperatures and high humidity in July and August, it's been all the encouragement the little bleeders oops, blighters needed to breed in large numbers. From my knees down I've been trying hard to avoid scratching the maddeningly itchy bites - but every now and again, my resolve has weakened and I've been scratching myself like a demented chimp! My hands and arms are just as bad - and then there's my ears and neck. I've been spraying mossie repellent all over me, setting up anti-mossie plugs at night (right) but all to no avail. 

To more cheery subjects, this morning I was down at the beach with the dawg - and if you ever plan to visit the Pays Basque, this is the month for it. While May and June are relatively tourist-free, the sea is still cold and hence the weather can't be relied upon. July and August are best avoided if you can (just too many people) - but September is virtually guaranteed to be the ideal month to visit. The majority of families with children have returned home, the sea is warm and the weather is stable with temps usually in the mid 20s.

This was the beach at Anglet this morning - Biarritz is just the other side of the headland with the lighthouse, with the mountains of Spain in the distance:
Tempting - or what?

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 all have been watching transfixed at the remarkable television coverage - often live - of NASA's Saturn V rockets, each just shy of 3000 tons, blasting off from Cape Canaveral as they headed for the moon on incandescent tongues 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 (40-odd 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 all 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 the exhilaration 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. He's rebuilding it in Sequim, WA, and he intends to sail it back to the UK once the mammoth task of restoration is complete. 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. 

If this project interests you but Washington State is a bit far away, then there's this traditional pilot cutter - all 68 feet of her - that's being built from scratch in Truro in the UK.

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.