Wednesday, 28 October 2009

26. River bank tales

25th October 2009. We enjoyed a lip-smacking dinner on Friday evening. J-Y, the husband of D (Madame’s painting teacher), had prepared a superb five course meal for all the class at the workshop/studio in the heart of Bayonne. He’d trained as a chef but found that he didn’t enjoy being shouted at by choleric chefs and so he abandoned cuisine as a career. However, thankfully, he’s continued cooking as an amateur. He and his wife are an extremely creative couple – we went to a soirée there about a month ago held to raise public awareness of foreign ‘jobless’ & students in Bayonne. There was a wide range of nationalities reflected in those present and they each presented themselves in their own language, with the aid of an interpreter if necessary. It was very well done and it succeeded in turning each one from the “jobless scrounger” stereotype into an individual.

As October draws to a close, the temps are bouncing around. Large leathery brown leaves from the chestnut trees are starting to drift down from on high in the avenue. The other morning it was down to 3C but this afternoon according to the thermometer in the car it was 25.. so we decided to go for a walk with the pooch along the Nive.
The Nive
We discovered this walk a few months ago and it’s become one of our favourites as the path is tarmac which helps keep the dog fairly clean. We’d originally planned on turning around at a small footbridge about 12km from Bayonne but having got there we realised that the village of our gite was just nearby. We carried on, only stopping at a farm shop to pick up a gateau Basque to offer M et Mme D. It was great to see them again and we sat outside in the sunshine before deciding to move inside as it was just too hot out there in the sun.. We had a couple of glasses of wine with the cake before heading back along the Nive to where we’d left the car.
One of the guys down at the rowing club has managed to find me a ticket for the Bayonne-Toulon game at the weekend.. Unfortunately Jonny Wilkinson won't be playing as he's joining up with the England squad for a month.

I started reading Robert Louis Stevenson's Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes today. Think I'd like to follow in his footsteps and bring the story up to date. He wrote it in 1878 when he was 28. The following year he travelled across the US to California before returning to Scotland. He went back to the US and then on to Australia before finally settling in Samoa. He was only 44 when he died.

I'd better start writing..!

Friday 30th October 2009: Just returned from soaking up the sun on the beach at Anglet.. where it was a warm 26 this afternoon. Our last visit for 2009? Who knows.. but I'm keeping a knotted hanky in the car just in case..

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

25. Smoking & Joints

21st October 2009. We’re the warmest place in France today at 21C.. Paris is down at around 12C.

I thought I’d give Madame a break from the kitchen today so this morning while she was at her painting class I prepared the lunch. I’d decided to make Jambalaya – which is a combination of many things we like – seafood, chicken, chorizo sausage, rice and hot Basque sauce.. It worked out quite well.. (if I say so myself!) If the finished product looks anything like this, you're in business!

(Gardening Dept: I’ve just finished re-seeding part of the lawn at the back of the house for about the third time.. Or, as it's known here, providing the starlings with yet another picnic.. This time I used a soil compound that was supposedly very rich in fertiliser and I hope this is the last time I have to do this particular job.)

Over the last few years I’ve had some pain in my knees when they’ve been immobile for a while – such as when driving or sat in the cinema.. The docs here sent me for MRI scans and X-rays and it turns out that I’ve got a touch of arthritis in both (aka the creeping march of time..). So yesterday I went to a Rhumatologue – a specialist who deals with articulation problems - and he injected both knees with a compound designed to cushion the joints. I’ve 2 more of these sessions to come then I should be OK again.

The issue of French manners seems to exercise many English people, but as I've observed before, manners here are different. For example, sat in the waiting room of the Rhumatologue, I noticed that everyone who came in said "Mesdames, messieurs" or what sounded like "M'sieurs dames" to the waiting room at large and the majority said "Au revoir mesdames, messieurs" to those in the waiting room on leaving. Now - correct me if I'm wrong - but this would not happen back in England.

Thought for the Day: I remember a doctor friend in England once saying that he was against living healthily with the aim of extending one’s life. His rationale is that the extra 5 years gained aren’t given back to you in your middle years – where you’d want them – but they get tagged on at the end.. where you don’t. He is a keen cigar smoker who smokes without guilt.

All of which brings me on to this: when Keith Floyd died, the holier than thou element of the UK media, aka the Fun Police, had a field day.. The headline in one English newspaper was “The pleasures of life undid him in the end..!” I would doubt that he had a single regret.. he lived his life as he wanted. Many don't. Here's to you, Keith!

Here's Keith in the Pays Basque bravely trying to make a Pipérade - against a constant barrage of 'advice'!

Right, enough of this, it’s a beautiful afternoon down here and it’s time to take the pooch for a walk. Then I'm going to have a drink on the terrace. Or two.

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.