Friday, 14 January 2011

106. A tale from the dentist

13th January 2011. We decided on a quick shopping trip to Dancharia in Spain yesterday to look at finding some lighter luggage suitable for our upcoming trip to Spain..

On the return journey, as we were driving down the snaking mountain road back towards Espelette (a village noted for le Piment d'Espelette and this great hotel/restaurant, and there are seven others - not bad for a village of only 2,000 inhabitants!) an oncoming car gave a discreet single flash of his headlights to the car in front of us - and the same again to us. In the Pays Basque, if agents of the State (gendarmes, CRS, police, Douanes) are out and about, operating a speed trap or a document check or, as was the case here, customs officers looking for people bringing commercial quantities of cheap cigarettes into France from Spain, then it is not unusual to be warned in this way. The strong streak of antipathy towards agents of the French State here is balanced by an equal measure of solidarity among the Basques. It's clear why this region was so successful in combatting the best efforts of the German Abwehr during WWII. There is such a solidarity that penetrating it must have been an almost impossible task.  

Now, to change the subject, if you have a 'thing' for chocolate, here's another Bayonne institution - Chocolaterie Daranatz.. I went there the other day to buy a small box of marrons glacés as a little treat for Madame. (If I give her a marron glacé I can do no wrong for minutes weeks afterwards..) If you're not a chocaholique, have a browse on their site - it will spoil you for ordinary chocolate. Chocolate from Daranatz and their close neighbours Cazenave is to High Street chocolate as a Hispano-Suiza convertible is to an Austin Allegro.. A word of caution: they do mail order!

14th January 2011. I went to my dentist in town this morning. His practice is in the Avenue Thiers - Bayonne's most elegant avenue - with its pale stone buildings and lined with trees that have been heavily manicured (square cut) in the French fashion.
Avenue Thiers
While he was attempting to get both hands and half of his tool-kit in my mouth(!), he started asking me the usual questions.. as they do! He then told me that there used to be a Monsieur Armstrong, an old Englishman, who lived next door to his surgery. He said Mr Armstrong was a widower who had been married to a lady from Bayonne - a beauty apparently. He'd been a pilot in the RAF during WWII and had lived in Bayonne for many years. Ten years ago, when Mr Armstrong was 85, he hadn't been seen by his neighbours for a while so finally the police were called to break his door down. He was found stone cold, slumped in an armchair with a bottle of whisky in front of him.. A sad end, but I suppose there are worse ways to go. I must admit that I did wonder on the way home if that would be my destiny too..? I'd better get some practice in! 

15th January 2011. I'm glad I crawled out of a warm bed early this morning to go down to the club - it was low tide and the river was still. There was a cloudless blue sky but it wasn't warm in the shadows. There was a good turnout this morning and we managed to put an VIII out on the water plus four IVs, several double scullers and singles. We took a coxless quad sculler out (2 nanas & 2 mecs) and it was unanimously agreed (by all apart from me!) that I should stroke it. At this point I should add I've not stroked a coxless four before. For any non-oarsmen reading this, steering is controlled by 'stroke' (me), with the rudder cable attached to the toe of my right shoe, which can pivot about the ball of the foot, moving the cable left or right. There was a total range of movement of about 3" (7.5cm) with the null position - ie, a dead straight rudder - in the centre. With the rudder centralised, the position of my right shoe was North/South - ie, straight up and down.  Unfortunately, when I'm rowing, my feet tend to settle at a "5 to 1" position (think clock) with the net result that the boat had a permanent tendency to turn to the left. I found it difficult to turn my right foot in to a "5 to" position and row at the same time.  We zigzagged our way up-river - with me zigging when I should have zagged -  through a low steamy mist which lay on the river - every now and again we'd burst out of the shadows into a sunlit cloud of golden mist.. very photogenic. In fact, I spotted a photographer on the bank taking pictures of us. Great morning to be out on the river. We did 14km this morning - most of which was in a straight line! (Running total: 372km). 

As it was a bright blue afternoon, Madame and I set off for Biarritz once I'd found my sunglasses. We parked on the cliffs near the lighthouse that overlooks the Grande Plage. As we looked south towards Biarritz, the sea was a dazzling silver as it reflected the bright sunlight.
There were some major rollers sweeping in and surfers could be seen getting entangled with them. The coast road in to the centre is the Avenue de l'Impératrice (Empress Avenue in Anglo-Saxon - think it sounds better in French!) and it is lined with over-sized houses built during Biarritz's heyday about 100 years ago when it was the go-to destination for the rich and famous. The style could be described as exotic eclecticism. That's to say, they are a unique merging of a number of styles - heavily gabled Basque, Art Deco, fantasy castle, Norman, Spanish hacienda & French Empire - that's only to be found at Biarritz. Many appear to have been sub-divided into apartments but there are still several that remain under single occupancy. These have no price. At the bottom of the hill lies the truly magnificent 5 star Hôtel du Palais - one of the world's great hotels. I can just see myself shuffling into their elegant dining room in my cardigan and slippers..
Turning right at the Palais, we headed down to the beach and the promenade. The sea was a sight to behold - surging waves were rolling in and breaking in confused explosions of foam. There appeared to be a strong undertow as incoming waves were colliding spectacularly with the outgoing remains of previous ones. And as each new wave crested just prior to breaking, steam-like spray would blow backwards off the top and a silvery mist hung over the beach. It was hot work sitting on the low wall watching the sea and there were even a few sun worshippers stripped down for bronzing action on the beach - some in bikinis (yes, in mid January!). After 15 minutes or so we decided we'd move before we were cooked through. (The temperature in the sun must have been upwards of 20°C)     

We walked up from the beach to the restored Art Deco Hotel Plaza where we sat outside for a coffee. It was so warm there we both took our jackets off.. So, Biarritz in January - what's it like I hear you ask..? Where to start..?

While I'm pondering that, enjoy the deceptive simplicity of Beethoven's 7th Symphony, the Second Movement (Allegretto)..

A couple of high quality flash mobs to finish with.. 
And this one filmed at the celebrated Café Iruña, Pamplona (another favourite resting place of a certain Mr E Hemingway).. 
And now back to our regular programming..!

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