Friday, 29 January 2010

41. Basque specialities

29th January 2010. I was walking through St Jean de Luz the other day listening to snatches of conversations from passersby (as you do) when it struck me that the English language was probably outside the medals in a distant fourth place when it came to which language was most likely to be overheard there. The first three contenders are French, Spanish and Basque (in no particular order). The rowing club has started a regular exchange with its counterpart in San Sebastian over the border. Prior to the saga of my knees, we drove over there a couple of times for outings in their very distinctive "trainieres" (right). I was quite surprised at how many of the French element could speak Spanish and there were even a few who could speak Basque as well. I've deliberately kept away from speaking "Angliche" with them there unless I've been absolutely forced to but I don't think many speak it at all. I noticed in Paris over Christmas that quite a few people kindly switched into English when my French wasn't up to it. However, down here in the extreme south west, English is a long way from being a second language.

After my Basque cheese market research episode, I was weighing up the pros & cons of the unique gastronomic specialities of the Pays Basque. In my view, while Basque cheeses don't stand comparison with the great cheeses of France, they're worth trying once or twice. Given the choice between a Basque cheese or a ripe Brie de Meaux, or even better, a (Vacherin) Mont d'Or, it would be no contest.. the Brie or the Mont d'Or (the king of cheese in my book) would win every time. Mont d'Or can only be found in the winter months which is why it's such a great Christmas treat here at 'Piperade Towers'. The Basque cheese has to be tried but only, in my view, out of a sense of duty that one is eating a regional product. (Edited to add: Re-reading this comment several years after I wrote it, I think I was being unduly harsh with Basque cheese. After all, an Ossau-Iraty cheese from Fromagerie Agour was voted the best cheese in the world a few years ago. Cheese is a very subjective subject - so take my comments with a pinch of salt - after all, Kraft Dairylea was the mainstay of my youth.)
This next comment might be seen as heresy here but I think the same is true of Gâteau basque which is widely found on local menus. I find it a fairly bland, stodgy cake that's pretty heavy going (you know you've eaten one) and devoid of any great taste. (I'll burn at the stake for this!) Yes, by all means give it a try when down here but don't expect too much from it. I'd better say no more on the subject! (Again, since writing the above one-eyed comment, my tastes have moved on and I've come to appreciate and, yes, enjoy gâteau basque.)

Just back from a VO (version originale - ie, in English) showing of George Clooney's latest - Up in the Air - at the flicks in Biarritz. The cinema experience was like going back 40-50 years.. No advertising, no relentless chomping of popcorn in bucket-sized containers, no half gallon Cokes being slurped, no rustle of sweet papers - just people out enjoying a film. How was the film? Not a feel-good movie at all - in fact, quite negative and depressing. If your Winter Fuel Allowance is burning a hole in your pocket, sit on your hands - because this isn't worth blowing a week's warmth on. Think George needs to speak to his agent.

No comments: