Monday, 19 October 2009

24. It's all go at the Rowing Club on and off the water

19th October 2009. I’m going to have to skate over the period from Spring 2008 to date, otherwise I’ll never get up to date..

I went along to the Rowing Club in Bayonne in September 2008 and joined the Loisirs (= Leisure) Section. I’d say that there is an equal mix of the sexes. We go out on the river 3 times a week – Tuesday & Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings. It’s a very friendly club - on arrival, the first arduous duty being to shake hands with all the mecs (blokes) and to kiss all the nanas (girls). This can take some time. The first Saturday I turned up to row, I was put in a quadruple sculler coxed ‘four’ (known here as a yolette) as the only mec in a crew of nanas. I was asked if I’d like to have lunch at the club and after checking with Madame that it was OK I said yes.

We set off up river and it wasn’t too long before the questions to the “Angliche” started coming thick and fast.. After explaining what I was doing in the Pays Basque, what I’d done before and what I thought of France etc etc we reached our turning point, and turned around to shoot down the river with the very strong current that was running. We did 16km that first Saturday and was I ready for a drink!

We sat down to lunch at 12 midday in the Salle des Rameurs (Rowers Room) which was lined with masses of silverware, trophies, pennants and photos. There were about 20 of us around the long table for lunch.. The wine appeared. Plates of charcuterie came and went, then some steaming great platters of cous cous, each with a mound of meat in the middle.. After that cheese (and more wine) before the tartes au pommes were wheeled out.. With the coffee, some bottles without labels were produced mysteriously from under the table – I’ve no idea what they contained but the contents of some of them could have powered the space shuttle. The lunch finished at 4pm (yes, a four hour lunch!) and was a great introduction to the club.

In November 2008, they had a Beaujolais Nouveau evening – which was another great success.. By the way, Beaujolais Nouveau here is a completely different beast to that which is sold in the UK.

Meanwhile the debate over the south western extension to the TGV network rumbles on.. I think the real issues are to do with preserving the status quo especially in the housing market.. ie, house prices pegged at their current level without the inflationary effect that would result from opening up the Pays Basque to affluent Parisians who could afford to buy a residence secondaire locally and commute to the capital on a weekly basis. Marseilles is now only 3 hrs from Paris by TGV whereas the Pays Basque is 5hrs.. I think the local view is that they don’t want or need an influx of outsiders and that this new line would benefit Parisians far more than it would them.

This is the latest TGV which just broke the world speed record for trains at a staggering 574kph (356mph for us). I'd much prefer to use the fast train (when it comes here finally) rather than drive or fly up to Paris.. The advantages are obvious - city centre to city centre, turn up and go, room to move, no lengthy check-in and security checks (yet!), more relaxing.. I for one look forward to the day when all the major cities of Europe are connected by high speed trains. Look at the clip here at 1.25 for a good impression of the speed:

I think this is a technology that the UK could and should have been developing.

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