Sunday, 1 November 2009

27. All Saints Day

1st November 2009. Yesterday, I went to watch Aviron Bayonne, the local rugby union club, play Toulon (Jonny Wilkinson's new club). Unfortunately he wasn't playing as he's back in England training with the England squad in preparation for the autumn internationals. Toulon is coached by Tana Umaga, the former All-Black, so they are no slouches. I came by the ticket courtesy of one of the girls at the rowing club - she said that her husband Éric was going and could get me a ticket. We arranged to meet at the main gate at 2pm.. When they arrived, it turned out that it was a 'freebie' and, not only that, it was a VIP ticket as well with access to pre- and post-match hospitality. Yee-haar..!

We went in and headed towards the hospitality tent, spotting Amelie Mauresmo (the French tennis player) on the way. The level of support for the club was clear for all to see - just about everyone was wearing something pale blue - the colour of Aviron Bayonne. It seemed as much a social occasion as a rugby match with many elegant ladies evident. Entering the VIP hospitality tent, I was staggered by the quality of the offerings.. there were ~30 tables - each sponsored by local companies – laden with seafood and other delicacies. We quickly found the right table and, as it was very warm, we just had time for a cold beer before going into the main stand to find our seats. Bayonne are struggling at the foot of the Top 14 having just sacked their coach but despite that they were very lively. They could and should have put points on the board before Toulon did. However, as it was, Toulon were more clinical and it ended 8-14.

This is a video of the Bayonne crowd singing their "Hymne" - Vino Griego or "La Peña Baïona" - on another occasion. When Bayonne play at home and the crowd sing it, we can hear them at the house. Guaranteed to bring you out in goose pimples..!
After the game, we returned to the VIP tent and this time, every table had, as its centrepiece, platters of seafood and oysters.. and cheeses various. ("Only in France.." I thought) There were opened bottles of Bordeaux on every table as well which I just had to interview and there was a champagne bar which didn't appear to be doing much business after the loss.

After we'd drowned our sorrows a bit, we came back to our place and sat out on the terrace in the garden with some tea and cake that Madame had. All in all, a very pleasant afternoon.

Today is All Saints Day in France and it's the day in the year when families, friends and relatives set off to visit the graves of their loved ones in cemeteries all over France. Not entirely coincidentally, the weekend also rates very highly as a "Black Weekend" as far as road deaths are concerned as motorists take to the motorways in droves and embark on long journeys - to the town or village of their infancy - to visit the family grave.

Many of these drivers seldom travel outside their Department and so the prospect of a long road trip is more than usually fraught with danger. For the rest of us, it's a good weekend to stay indoors. For the last few days, the local regional TV news has been showing the Gendarmerie operating speed traps along the length and breadth of Aquitaine - all of which served to remind Madame to wag a cautionary finger at me - as my driving licence is hanging on - as they would say in the Eurovision Song Contest - by neuf points..

It is traditional to leave flowers at the graveside and the flower most often left is the chrysanthemum. (Warning: if invited to a French home, never be tempted to offer chrysanthemums.) Flower shops at this time of the year seem to sell nothing but pots of chrysanthemums (right).. I walked into Bayonne this fine Sunday morning - in shirt-sleeves (winter seems like another country) - to buy a couple of campaillettes (an extremely more-ish pointy-ended crusty baguette currently in favour with the Mem'sahib) from a baker with a traditional wood-fired oven in Petit Bayonne - just across the Nive. As I walked down the avenue, I couldn't help noticing the size of the chestnut leaves that have started drifting down - some were a good foot across. Our local florist had an amazing display of beautifully sculpted chrysanthemums in pots this morning.. as did all the other florists in town.

I stopped at a cash machine and when I'd finished, an old gentleman who'd been waiting behind me asked if I could help him. At first I thought I was being offered an opportunity to contribute to his lunch but then I realised he was asking me for help in operating the cash machine. I managed to get through all of this without asking him to repeat himself or without him asking me to repeat myself. All in French. Afterwards, I continued my walk feeling pleasantly pleased with myself. Another minor victory. I've had these unexpected conversations before where I've had to run up the white flag and confess to being an "Angliche" - being unable to dredge up the right words in time.

Into Bayonne proper at around 10am, the shuttered streets were fairly empty apart from a handful of chic Parisian tourists clutching their Guides Michelin. It was low water and looking down into the Nive, there were shoals of fat grey mullet hunting in packs for titbits. Over the bridge and into the bakers and the heady smell of hot fresh bread.. (Mmm!)

Job done - two hot loaves in hand - I somehow managed to resist the temptation to nibble the pointed end of a Campaillette on the return journey. Walking down the shopping street near home, I passed by 'our' estate agent.. Its window was full of property details and I noticed a smallish slim box with a slot in it affixed to the wall. It invited any party interested in a property to leave a Carte de Visite in the box. This struck me not only as an excellent idea but also a delightfully old-fashioned one at the same time - the assumption that a prospective house buyer would possess a carte de visite. How many people in England would have a visiting card - not a business card. Not too many I’d guess.

It's midday, the windows are wide open, the sun is shining and church bells are ringing all across Bayonne.

I don't know about you but I'm off downstairs to set the table.

Addendum. It turned out that Madame had other ideas. A pot of paint and a paint brush were waiting for me downstairs and she pointed me in the direction of the front door which needed another coat of paint before winter. She simply doesn't realise the importance of keeping this blog up to date!

We went for a walk with the dawg along the sea-front at Biarritz in the late afternoon as the forecast for next week is for showers (or bits and pieces of rain as the BBC weather girls say!). Although the car thermometer said 25C, it felt a few degrees warmer.. and there was quite a crowd out, with people swimming and surfing. It was still 24 at 6.30 when we arrived home - all this on 1st November!

We once saw the "Riverdance" show at the Sheffield Arena in England and it was a stunning performance. It was a fill-in act during the interval during the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin and they took the place by storm. (Health Warning: Don't try this at home!) Fast forward to 4:45 if you're short of time:

When we saw the show in Sheffield, we were lucky enough to be seated near to the very talented Irish band. I'd've paid just to hear them.. they looked like they were enjoying themselves and would have played for nothing. The one who stood out for us though was Davy Spillane on the Uilleann pipes:

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