Thursday, 30 September 2010

87. Strangers in town!

Friday 24th September 2010. This time last week I was picking up three of my relatives at Bordeaux airport who were going to be staying with us for a few days. The first to arrive were my cousin M and her Canadian husband R who had flown over from Toronto via Paris; they were followed a short time later by S, my cousin from England. We'd been greatly looking forward to their visit since we first invited them over a year ago. I'd been looking at the long range weather forecasts for weeks and, after a prolonged spell of great summer weather down here, clouds and rain were being predicted over the five days of their stay in the Pays Basque. I shouldn't have worried as far as they were concerned - for Canadians like M & R, anything north of freezing point is a bonus! They'd have been just as happy here if it had been snow and ice!

Hotel/restaurant Ramuntcho, St Jean Pied de Port
As it turned out, despite all the gloomy predictions of the weather forecasters, they were treated to perfect weather every day they were here.. it couldn't have been better for them with blue skies and temperatures up in the mid twenties. They really saw the Pays Basque at its very best. For me, one of the many highlights was a lunch we had one day at St Jean Pied de Port. We had thought of taking them to one of our favourite places, the hotel/restaurant "Ramuntcho", an excellent family-run traditional restaurant set squarely in the historic part of town.
Unfortunately, when we arrived there we found it was their closing day so, after exploring the picturesque street with its Pilgrim* signs everywhere and walking along the old fortified walls of the town, we found our way across the main road to the Hotel Central** (below), situated on a bridge high above the Nive. While its stylish and cool dining room was tempting, we found a shaded table for five out on their terrace that overlooked the river and - well, all I can say is: try it for yourselves..! That lunch will live long in the memory.
* Santiago de Compostela
**Needless to say, I have no commercial interest in this hotel or any other business recommended here.

We also took them to San Sebastian and stopped for a lunch of pintxos (tapas) at our favourite dog-friendly bar Aralar (follow the link for photos) in the heart of the old town.

There was the usual colourful and mouth-watering display of pinxtos - bite-sized appetisers made with prawns, fish, crab, croquettes, tortilla, jamon, egg, red peppers stuffed with cod and many other tasty morsels too numerous to mention - set out all along the self-service bar-top which you then take to the friendly multi-lingual barman (who speaks at least 5 languages) for him to total up.

What to drink? Sangria is the drink of choice at Aralar which they serve in an oversized glass (tough job but someone has to do it!). After a bracing 130 octane unleaded extra virgin cold pressed Spanish espresso to finish off with, we emerged blinking into the sunlight, stuffed to the gills, feeling suitably mellow and riding 'very low in the water'*, to wander around the beautiful old streets of San Sebastian for a while in the late afternoon sun.
A saying of Bill McLaren's, rugby's greatest ever commentator.

La Concha, San Sebastian
We narrowly escaped bumping into Julia Roberts who was breezing through town and due in a plush downtown hotel on a whistle-stop tour around Europe to promote her latest film. Her loss! This review suggests to me that the film has all the essential ingredients that any successful chick flick needs. Without being too dinosaur-ish about it all, when it plays in Bayonne I reckon I'll be otherwise engaged giving my sock drawer the Mother Of All Tidyings ..! Anyway, don't let my curmudgeonly ramblings put you off. Here, for all you ladies out there, is the trailer.. (tell me I'm wrong!)
Another unexpected bonus occurred during a visit to a sunny St Jean de Luz.. We found out on arrival that the Patrouille de France were going to be displaying a little later over the bay.. so we found a good vantage point on the sea wall. The team is led this year by a woman - Commandant Virginie Guyot.

We took our visitors around all our favourite places in the Pays Basque - as well as San Sebastian, St Jean Pied de Port and St Jean de Luz, we visited Ascain, Sare, Ainhoa, Saint Etienne de Baïgorry (where we bought some Irouleguy from the cooperative), Biarritz and of course Bayonne. It was great to see them here but suddenly it was the day of their departure for Carcassonne and their stay with us was over all too soon. It seemed as though we'd only just said hello to them before we were saying goodbye. There is so much more here we could have shown them. For instance, one of our favourite villages is Sare - notable for the Hotel Arraya in the centre. We had lunch there one day - it was worth the trip just to see the dining room.. Being totally honest, we both found the portions on the light side - even accepting that in these days of nouvelle cuisine, a groaning table is a thing of the past.

Jonathan Ray, the Telegraph's former wine correspondent gives his view of wines - Irouléguy, Jurançon and Madiran - of the Pays Basque and Béarn here. If you do visit the region, you have to try the wines.. They're not quirky oddities, they don't fall into the "don't travel" category and you definitely won't regret it. Just ensure that both the reds are not cool from your cellar.. pop them into your airing cupboard to bring the temp up a few notches.

Having tried many of the Irouléguys I'd recommend the Irouléguy Gorri d'Ansa (expect to pay ~8-9€ in a shop). There is a white Irouléguy but I've not tried it. I'd say 9 out of 10 bottles of Irouléguy are red.

Madiran? Chateau Peyros would get my vote. Yes, there are cheaper alternatives but as always... fill in the rest yourself!

As for the Jurançon, I don't know it sufficiently well to recommend one above another. You can find dry and doux (sweet) Jurançon. The dry is excellent with seafood whereas you should save the doux as an apero or with foie gras or dessert. If unsure which one you're looking at, the doux Jurançon has a hint of amber in the colour whereas the dry is very pale.

If you find yourself standing in front of a shelf feeling a tad confused, always remember this tip.. Look at the label to see if it gives the name of the Propriétaire - it might say Mis en bouteille par - bottled by Gaston Dupont. As a quick rule of thumb, I think if someone is prepared to put his name on his wine it counts for more than one produced by a Société.. How will you know if it's been produced by a Société..? At the base of the label, you might see the word Société or you might see an acronym - something like SCEA or something close to.. That means the wine has been produced by a number of growers and well.. human nature being what it is etc etc. Reading the label though is no substitute for tasting a wine at the right temperature and with food. At this point I'll put my tin hat on and await the incoming!

25th September 2010. The skies looked a bit threatening this morning on my way down to the rowing club.. The river was in full flood mode and there was one heck of a strong downstream current. We had about 3 yolettes (beamy 'fours' for beginners) out on the water and they were barely making any headway up-river. I went out in a quad sculler and, sure enough, fifteen minutes into the outing there was a downpour.. Ah well, 'tis only water.. Did 12 km (running total 190km).

26th September 2010. Down to the beach at Anglet this afternoon to enjoy the sunshine and we sat and relaxed watching the rollers surging in and bursting in explosions of foam and spray against the jetty there.

28th September 2010. My cousin brought me a fascinating book about the Royal Flying Corps and that's enough of an excuse for me to replay the late Rik Mayall at his very best:
Out in the VIII (rowing, not sculling) this evening.. Set off late due to a small tech problem so we headed off down river to join the wide open spaces of the Adour. There was a rolling swell as we neared the sea which made for uncomfortable rowing so we turned about and came back. 12km (running total 202km)

30th September 2010. We went to Biarritz this morning - Madame had an appointment at the hairdressers there so I ambled around with the pooch doing pensioner impressions for an hour - shouting at passing traffic, blocking pavements, pulling doors marked push - that sort of thing. Then, after she'd finished, we had a pizza in a place opposite Barclays Bank (near Hotel Windsor). Delicious pizza - highly recommended..

Went rowing this evening in a quad sculler - 12km (running total 214km).

2nd October 2010. 15km this morning in a IV. (running total 220km)

5th October 2010. 12km (total 232km)

9th October 2010. 16 km (total 248km)

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

86. A Walk in the Park*

14th September 2010. I'm back home after a truly amazing weekend spent in the company of some of the most inspirational people I've ever met. A short recap follows in case you missed my earlier posts on the subject of the Comet Line.                                       (* = tongue in cheek)

After the German blitzkreig in May-June 1940 overwhelmed the defences of Holland, Belgium, France and forced the evacuation from Dunkirk of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), Andrée De Jongh, a young Belgian nurse, decided that she  had to do something to help the Allied cause. As she herself put it in typically uncompromising fashion:

"When war was declared I knew what needed to be done. There was no hesitation. We could not stop what we had to do although we knew the cost. Even if it was at the expense of our lives, we had to fight until the last breath."

Inspired to action by the deeds of Edith Cavell, Dédée, as she was better known, created the Comet Line whose purpose was to guide shot-down Allied airmen to the UK to continue fight the war. Its motto was "Pugna Quin Percutias" ("Fight without killing"). The Comet Line comprised some 2,000 dedicated volunteer helpers and a chain of safe houses that stretched from Brussels to Paris and on down through occupied France to Bayonne in the Basque country. Having escorted her small groups of evaders on the express train from Paris to Bayonne, she would join up with the legendary Basque guide Florentino Goicoechea (below right) (Eng trans: here) and together they would lead the aviators over the Pyrenees and into the hands of British diplomatic staff based in 'neutral' Spain. Hundreds of Allied airmen and others were helped by the Comet Line network to escape the grisly clutches of the Third Reich. Florentino was a smuggler by trade and when awarded the King's Medal he was famously described as being 'in the import and export business'. A man of immense strength, he was not averse to pulling a knife on escapers to 'encourage' them if they said they couldn't climb another step. Bob Frost (below) recalled how he fell into a hole at night during his escape and Florentino just reached down and pulled him out with one hand.

After a betrayal in January 1943, "Dédée" was arrested, interrogated, tortured and then sent to Germany where she spent 2 years in Ravensbruck and then Mauthausen. She survived the war and spent some 28 years working in leper hospitals in pre-independence Belgian Congo, Cameroon, Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, and finally Senegal. In failing health, she eventually retired to Brussels where she died in 2007 aged 90.

I ask for your understanding for this necessarily abbreviated version of historical events and if I've omitted to mention someone - as I surely must have - I apologise.

The Comet Line is commemorated in many ways - one of which is an annual 'walk' over the exact same route out of France, over the mountains and into Spain and eventual freedom that the escapers took. It's organised locally by Jean Dassié.

Prior to the weekend, I'd contacted John Clinch, whose excellent website contains a whole slew of information about the Comet Line and the resistance in Belgium (highly recommended) and we'd arranged to meet at a café in the centre of Saint Jean de Luz on Friday in good time before the first meeting. This was to be a wreath laying at the War Memorial in St Jean de Luz followed by a vin d'honneur at the Town Hall just nearby. We were fortunate and honoured to be joined by a wartime Comet helper and three aircrew veterans who'd come down the Line and escaped back to the UK.
The veterans

Here we are at the War Memorial with 3 RAF escapers - from left to right: Bob Frost (Wellington tail gunner) shot down on his 28th mission; George Duffee (Halifax pilot) shot down on his first trip as 2nd Dicky; Andrée Dumont (English translation here) - known by her wartime codename "Nadine" - she courier'd the aircrew from Brussels to Paris. Captured & tortured, sent first to Ravensbruck then to the infamous Mauthausen. Received the OBE in 1946. A real heroine! Gordon Mellor (Halifax navigator) - shot down on his 17th trip. Next is a deputy mayor from St Jean de Luz. Raymond from Rheims (on the extreme right) was in the Resistance and was deported and jailed. He spent a few years in a cell with a couple of RAF aircrew - where he learnt his English.. I felt privileged to meet all of these Comet helpers and aircrew over the course of the weekend.
Ramiro Arrue painting in the town hall at St Jean de Luz 

Mr Jean Dassié today
Lucienne Dassié 
(devenue Mme André Saboulard) 
After a friendly welcome at the Town Hall where, incidentally, one of our hosts was kind enough to show Nadine and I three magnificent works (one of which above) by the noted Basque artist Ramiro Arrue - we all separated for lunch before travelling up to Bayonne for another wreath-laying ceremony at the grave of the Dassié family. Both Mr and Madame Dassié actively supported the Comet Line along with their daughter Lucienne (aka "Lulu"). However, all three were betrayed and they were arrested by the Gestapo and spent two years in Buchenwald and Ravensbruck respectively. The Germans left young Jean, aged 7, at home on his own.. After the father was released in 1945 he was repatriated to Paris and saw his family one last time before dying the following day from the ill-treatment he had received. Both "Lulu" and Jean were present for this commemorative weekend.
As it is today

Then we continued on to nearby Anglet to visit the unassuming Villa Voisin - the safe house where many of the escaping airmen stayed (5 mins from where I write) and where the southern end of the network was controlled by Elvire de Greef (aka "Tante Go"). It doesn't appear to have changed too much. We then made our way to the War Memorial in Anglet for a further wreath laying there followed by a vin d'honneur.. Then we all sped off to a local restaurant for the evening. There must have been between 50-60 of us altogether.

Kattalin Aguirre
At Florentino's grave
The next morning saw the start of the hard work. I arrived early at St Jean de Luz and walked around the bay to Ciboure where there was another wreath laying ceremony at the graves of Florentino Goicoechea and Kattalin Aguirre.  

On the Saturday, the group split into two - the walkers and those who would travel between RVs by bus.. After breakfast at a beachside cafe nearby, the walkers set off for Urrugne which is where we were going to have lunch.. (provided by the commune) For us, we were glad to be finally moving and it only took us an hour or so to reach Urrugne, a small village en route to the mountains. After a short ceremony by the War Memorial, we walked the short distance down to a local school where a copious lunch of ham, cheese, fruit, bread, cider and wine had been set up in the sunshine. I broke the habit of a lifetime for once and ate sparingly and kept to water. 

Then we set off for the mountains.. although there was one final final stop at "Bidegain Berri", the farm in the foothills that was used by the escapers as the jumping-off point and where Dédée was arrested in Jan '43. This was the farmhouse belonging to brave Frantxia Usandizaga, who sheltered the airmen in the last safe house in France as they waited for nightfall before attempting to cross the mountains. She was betrayed, along with Dédée de Jongh, but unlike her, she didn't return and she died in Ravensbruck. The house itself had been modernised and appeared anonymous, bearing no witness to the dramatic events that had taken place there so many years before. Yet again we heard speeches extolling the bravery of those who had given their lives in the cause of freedom.

Bidegain Berri
This was the start of the walk proper, and it was time for anyone who could not complete to get on the coach, as there would be no way back. This is where the pain started.. We set off briskly and gradually the road turned into gravel and grass, then we turned up a steep track that was loosely surfaced and then we were on the mountain. It was difficult to set a rhythm when part of a long snake of other climbers stopping and starting on a crumbly, sometimes muddy, slippy underfoot, uneven, steep rocky surface. It was hot too - according to a fellow walker with a multi-function watch it was 35C (95F). And it was humid.. All attempts at conversation ceased now as we tried individually to find our own pace. Each time I reached what I thought was a summit, the mountain opened up to reveal another even steeper climb before me.

My legs became heavier and heavier, I was stumbling, sweat was pouring off me and I could feel my climbing ability reducing with every step. I stopped now and again to ease the burning in my legs but there was no respite from the sun which beat down on us. I did start to think the unthinkable (i.e. going back..). I thought my rowing training would have stood me in good stead but the magnitude of the effort required for this took me by surprise. I thought it would be hard but I just couldn't see myself being able to finish this. I decided not to look ahead and to take it one step at a time. Even then I had to stop every few yards. Luckily some kind soul (I never did catch his name) stopped with me each time and after a few seconds rest, encouraged me to my feet with an "Allez allez!" (I found him at the finish and thanked him)

I kept telling myself that the airmen who tackled the climb during the war did so in the dark, wearing espadrilles, perhaps weak from enforced inactivity and injury, plus they would have the ever-present fear of capture, which could have meant imprisonment, torture and execution. That they found it a gruelling climb is no surprise - that they were able to complete the walk is a tribute to them and perhaps also to the encouragement offered by Florentino and Dédée. By all accounts, many were tempted to give up. 

Suddenly we were at the summit and a magnificent panorama stretched out before us with the outline of Fuenterrabia in Spain clearly visible below.. I lay as if pole-axed for a few minutes before climbing to my feet again for the descent which was not as easy as it appeared on the slippery rocks and loose surface.. My water bottle was now all but empty and I was unable to swallow an energy bar. The morale in our small group rose sharply when we came across a trickling spring of cold water. A lifesaver..!

The sound of the Bidassoa river was now clearly audible below and our pace quickened as we scrambled down the final hurdle of a steep descent of a slippery rock face. We emerged from the woodland and there before us lay the Bidassoa. What a relief to step into its cool fast flowing waters! Cheered across by the veterans and others, we made it across the slippery river bed and up the other side to be met with cold rough cider and grilled sardines prepared for us by our Spanish Basque helpers..

I was too tired to even eat a sardine which must be some sort of a record for me! The coach taking us back to our hotels that night was very quiet, as we were all too exhausted to speak. We were told the next day would be equally as arduous, but as we would be starting early we would feel stronger. That was it for me.. This was the hardest physical challenge I've ever done and I was really at the end of my tether - rubber legs, the ground moving, pounding in my ears et al. Madame reminded me when I returned home that my doc had told me no climbing with my dodgy knees! So, as I'd just paid my rowing subscription for the year, we decided that discretion would be the better part of valour etc so the following day saw me on the bus.

I've 'lifted' this description (from John Clinch's site) of the second day from Anna Moreland who completed it in 2004:

Next morning saw us up before dawn without even time for breakfast and marching off to join the coach which would relay us to the point where we had finished the night before. The giddying ascent started immediately and our calf muscles aching from the day before were soon searing with pain. Again we climbed and climbed in single file, with some paths so steep that we were looking for any handhold just to stop sliding down. Just when it seemed that we were at the very end of endurance we stopped on a grassy knoll. Looking about us in every direction we could see nothing but other mountain peaks, equally majestic, encircled with swirling mists. Their sides were lush and verdant, buzzards soared, the air smelt of spruce, wild mint and mountain thyme, and the view was giddying with no sign of humanity. It felt as if earth had touched the heavens in that one magical spot. I'm sure those like myself who had never done any real climbing must have felt all the effort worthwhile just for those few moments.

We were offered a packet of biscuits by a couple who spoke only Euskera, the language of the Basques, and we ate them gratefully, sharing those magical moments in a companionable silence. We could have stayed there for ages, drinking in the view, but Roger soon had us moving on again as we had deadlines to meet.

Sarobe Farm
The next few hours passed in more painful ascents, crossing a busy road that of course had not been there originally, and then, at last, a gradual descent through the woods towards Sarobe farm. We arrived at about midday to find a farmhouse untouched by the years. It was not hard to imagine the relief the aircrew must have felt as they staggered through the door into the warmth and shelter of a large kitchen where a table would have been laid with food and warm drinks for them, and bowls of salt water would be provided to soak their bleeding and blistered feet. Then they would be shown to a hay loft where they were given blankets and allowed finally to sleep. The farm is still owned by the same family, and their welcome was sincere and touching. Refreshments of their own home made cider and bread and nuts were provided on a long trestle table outside, as we wearily awaited the coach with the veterans, who had been delayed.

Having arrived here by a small bus, I rejoined the walkers at this point.

15,000 litre cider barrels (3300 gallons)
We set off on the last stage of the freedom trail down a tarmac road under the heat of the midday sun. This was just a hard slog to the finish. Pressing on, we encouraged each other to keep going and eventually we found our buses.. which took us to our cidrerie - which was full of Spanish Basques all talking 20 to the dozen.. We sat at long tables and some very welcome rough cider appeared followed by some powerful local Rioja.. These cidreries (ours was #5 on this list) are popular in the Spanish Basque country.

Food arrived unbidden.. served on one large communal plate between every 2 or 4 people.. an omelette with cod, followed by cod with green peppers and then a cote de boeuf between two. This had been shown a grill - briefly - and, as my Dad would have said, a good vet could have had it back on its feet in 5 minutes..!
From l to r: Cod omelette, cod with peppers, cote de boeuf, cheese with quince & honey
They race 13 man boats known as traînières in the Spanish Basque country - I've rowed with them a few times at San Sebastian out on the long rolling Atlantic swells (right) and difficult it is too - and it just so happened that the local club to our cidrerie had won the final of "Le Drapeau de la Concha" and they were celebrating in the adjacent dining room. When they heard that our three veterans were in the next dining room, they all poured in. They love singing and an accordion appeared and they started (below) with a song of farewell (one that they used to sing as the fishing boats left) which was for the Veterans - and there wasn't a dry eye in the house.. or a lump-free throat. It was incredibly moving.. and I'd have thought it almost impossible to capture the atmosphere with a camera.. but John Clinch managed it brilliantly with his clip:
They then sang Hegoak, a Basque song (roughly equivalent to Flower of Scotland) that's sung across the Basque country on both sides of the border. Here's a short clip of trainieres at San Sebastian rowing out at speed into the Atlantic and also some youngsters at Saint-Jean-de-Luz:
Our final stop of the day was at Florentino's birthplace in Hernani, a small Spanish Basque village. There, a small memorial to their greatest son had been set up at the roadside and it was here that we assembled - together with Florentino's brother Antonio (an astonishingly sprightly 93!) and his family. After some heartfelt thanks from the 'vets' - which, incidentally, were translated into Basque by Joe, an Irishman living in San Sebastian - about 10 ladies gave an extremely moving rendition of Hegoak.

Everyone there at the Comet weekend had a story to tell. One woman had come all the way from Australia to re-trace her Dad's footsteps. Another daughter came from California. The story of the Comet Line is a very human story and it showed humanity at its best - and at its worst.

If anyone is interested in the period covering the German occupation of the Côte Basque during WWII, then I would recommend this site. It's packed with information, accounts and photographs that go a long way to explaining many of the remains that litter the Côte Basque to this day..

Almost finished - as I write, Suzanne Dando, a former British Olympic athlete, is participating in a similar event further east - le Chemin de la Liberté. this involves a 4 day crossing of the Pyrenees at altitudes of up to 8,000ft. I wish her and her team of women every encouragement. Well done ladies!  

15th September 2010. Finally, I went rowing yesterday evening - had an excellent solid outing in an VIII on a beautiful evening. 12km. (running total 165km)

23rd September 2010. Rowing tonight - good sortie in a IV - 13km. (running total 178km)

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

85. Rain - at last

5th September 2010. Another bullfight at Les Arènes this evening.. Thankfully, it was the last of the season..

Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No 3 provided the signature theme to the film Shine - which, if you missed it the first time around, is well worth seeking out:
6th September 2010. When we were finally handed the keys to Piperade Towers 3 years ago, I was a bit taken aback by the size of the main front door key - a good 5" long and made of solid brass, it would not have been out of place in the Château d'If..! The front door was fitted with two ancient locks - neither of which would have deterred a professional cambrioleur* (= burglar). Also, the front door was, at best, only an approximate fit in the space provided for it.. This aspect finally sealed its fate last winter when icy draughts would come knifing in. We decided to call in Eric - aka le menuisier magique (the magic carpenter) - to fix it. He came yesterday and fitted a modern lock which did away with the need for 2 locks and he also reworked the door edging to close off the source of draughts. While he was here, he also fitted a ventilator to an external cellar door and, as an encore, went with me in his van to Castorama to select the right récupérateur d’eau de pluie (rainwater collector) which he then connected up to a drainpipe.       
* I always thought this would make a good name for a car!
7th September 2010. Overnight I am reliably informed that we had a thunderstorm (I didn't hear a thing!) and on checking the new water barrel this morning, I saw it was full to the brim - all 350 litres of it.

Just back from the doctor - I needed a medical certificate stating that I am healthy to continue rowing.. I am more than happy with the outcome of the tests - blood pressure came out at 125/75 and heart beat was 54 (a marine diesel ticks over faster than that!). Think rowing is doing me some good. I'm working on my weight to get that back to 14st 5lbs / 201lbs / 91kg - which is what I was for years. Did 16km this evening on the river.. (running total now = 153km)

Enjoy John Williams and "Asturias"..
8th September 2010. We went down to St Jean de Luz this morning to pick up a few things.. The parking spaces lining the northern end of the golden beach were 90% free this morning as the great mass of tourists have thankfully decamped back to from whence they came.
Low season (Sept-June)

High season (July-Aug)
St Jean de Luz was once again a delight - the sea air had that fresh tang, the circular bay looked beautiful against the backdrop of white houses across at Ciboure and Socoa with the Pyrenees outlined blue against the hazy horizon. The wooden frames for the beach tents were already being dismantled and soon the diving platform moored a hundred metres or so offshore and the line of buoys to keep power-boaters and swimmers apart will be a memory. We walked along the front where a few pampered clients of the Hotel Helianthal Thalassotherapy centre were walking on the beach a tad self-consciously in their white towelling bathrobes.

How can I say this without being accused of ageism but St Jean was chock-a-block with pensioners.. (yes, and I know I'm one!) We've now entered the season of the Silver Tourist.. I try hard not to shuffle about and block pavements but it is catching!

I've finally remembered to post a pic of one of our favourite places in St Jean - the La Buvette Des Halles. OK, the plastic chairs are a bit naff but apart from that small niggle, it takes some beating. Why pay more?
The menu of La Buvette Des Halles - aka the eye test!
Finally, we stopped off at Laffargue to pick up something we'd ordered for Madame's birthday.. I've got a standing instruction that if I never know what to buy her for a birthday, Christmas, whatever - I've just to go to Laffargue..!

8th September 2010. I read the other day that John Lennon would have been 70 next month.. Here's a reminder of him at his best.. (in my view!)
And now, if you'll excuse me, I must start preparing myself for my weekend away with the Resistance! Starting tomorrow.. Now where did I put my Sten gun..?

Saturday, 4 September 2010

84. Saturday frolics

3rd September 2010. Last night was very warm and there was a sound outside that we don't often hear..

4th September 2010. I had a good outing in an VIII this morning - instead of pointing up the Nive as usual though, we turned the other way and rowed through the town under 4 low bridges and out onto the much bigger Adour and headed downstream..

The Nive and the Adour.. (clubhouse is just above and left of the nearest bridge)
We then set off at a cracking pace down to the coast. The boat was well-balanced this morning and it was very satisfying listening to the sounds we were making - the whoosh whoosh as the thirty two wheels of the eight sliding seats ran forward and back on sixteen slides in unison, the solidity of the work in the water and the occasional scuddering of the blades across ripples in the water - it's moments like that that remind me why I row. Did 15 km this morning..  (running total = 137km) 

There's a lot of truth in this cartoon below (in my opinion!):

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

83. On Rowing and Life

1st September 2010. We went for a ride up the Nive again this morning. We caught the river on the turn and there was no discernible current. Another 20kms..

I'd always remembered an old French entry in the Eurovision Song Contest (without knowing what it was called) that sounded as if it had an Arabic influence. It's a song that, to me, should have done better. I had to do a trawl through France's Eurovision entries on YouTube for the last 25 years or so before I found it. It came from the 1991 Eurovision (don't say we're not up to date here!) and it finished 2nd - so maybe not all that bad after all. So, today's Song du Jour is: Amina (& here in English) and "Le dernier qui a parlé" (The last one who spoke):
An interesting clip here on the techniques used to select the "best" eight oarsmen for a racing VIII. The strongest or fittest aren't necessarily the ones that combine best to make the fastest boat. More here.

There's read-across into the business model too. Here's a taster:

"There is an interesting parallel to this in corporate life. When asking managers to choose between the most competent and the most likeable candidate for a job, they often opt for the most competent. They’d be thought as unprofessional if they didn’t. However, in practice, they do very much the opposite, provided of course the likeable individual is sufficiently competent."
A thought-provoking comment from the clip: Pick your best VIII, not your eight best..

We took Chibby for a run along the grassy open spaces at Anglet beach this evening. At 7.45pm, it was still 31C.. and the sea was flat calm with the hills behind St Jean de Luz and on into Spain showing blue in the evening light..

Don't mention it to Madame but this has caught my eye..!

2nd September 2010. Aah, that's better - life is back to normal.. The July/August mass of holidaymakers have returned home and school has re-started for all 12 million schoolkids today.

I forgot to mention that we had another interesting visitor moored at the bottom of the avenue a couple of weeks ago..
This was the three masted barque Belem (Eng trans) which offers experience under sail to all-comers. She was in transit from Lorient, stopping at Bayonne before heading further south to St Jean de Luz. She reminded me of one of the greatest accounts of life under sail ever written - "The Last Grain Race" by Eric Newby.

In this, Eric Newby's first book, he captured brilliantly all the salty tang of the dialogue of the largely Scandinavian crew on a deep sea voyage in Moshulu, a Finnish registered 4 masted steel barque en route from Belfast to Port Lincoln in Australia in 1939 and the return voyage via Cape Horn, laden with innumerable sacks of wheat. He was just 18 years old. An unforgettable and highly recommended read.

Very nice sortie in an VIII this evening.. 15km.. (Running total 122km)

The late Miriam Makeba exploded onto the scene in 1967 with this memorable record - Pata Pata: