Tuesday, 16 August 2011

162. The archetypal Basque village

13th August 2011. Another 'Bismarck' moment down on the river this morning as we had a coming together with a submerged log or something similar that wiped the rudder of our VIII clean off. We turned around and returned as it would have been impractical to continue along the winding Nive with little or no control over the steering. Did 9km in the end. (Running total: 915km) 

16th August 2011. Yesterday was Assumption - a public holiday here in secular France! To be honest, I had to ask Madame what Assumption is all about and the link above explains all. This event seemed to have slipped by me when I attended (as in 'slept through') my CoE Sunday school a few centuries ago. Needless to say, many if not all local shops were closed. In the Pays Basque, this holiday seems to have more significance than 14th July, France's national day.
We'd booked a table at our favourite restaurant in our 'old village' - the one we returned to every summer for years. This was the scene outside the restaurant  as a local band took up residence!

The village - Ascain if you must know! - was in full Fête mode with the road through the village being blocked off and the regional heats for the National Creative Car Parking Championships in full swing!☺
Fronton, Ascain
There were strolling bands in the streets and the fronton was surrounded by a 6 deep crowd watching a bare-handed version of Pelote Basque.
La Rhune as seen from Ascain
Ascain lies at the foot of La Rhune, the Sphinx-like sleeping giant of a mountain (a smidgen under 3,000ft high) that looks out over the Pays Basque. The other day there was a foot-race from Ascain up to the summit - and back.. (ouch!) The winner crossed the line in a staggering 63 minutes! A 73 year old veteran also completed the run!

This clip gives you the view of La Rhune as seen from a microlight before swooping down over Ascain. The restaurant can be seen just on the right hand side of the church that dominates the village.
Some more pictures for you of this most beautiful of Basque villages:

We loved this village from the first time we found it and these were the images (Flickr slideshow here) that sustained us through many a long cold winter in England - and when we returned each year, it was like coming home. The village is situated on the Nivelle right at the point where the coastal plain stops and the Pyrenees start.. 

When we first stayed at the small hotel/restaurant there, it was managed by the parents of the current owner - his father - M'sieur L - was the chef while Madame L looked after 'front of house'. 
Typical Basque house
We'd return at around 6pm from wherever we'd been and feeling fresh after a shave and a shower to wash away all the salt, sand and sun cream, I'd wander downstairs to take a seat under the platanes. This was the highlight of the day for me - a clean shirt, and with the temperature starting to cool a couple of degrees after the heat of the day. Madame L would bring out a drink and a small earthenware pot of nibbles for me from the small bar and then she'd stand next to me - she'd never sit - and we'd talk while French families squinted at the menu board outside - serious business! Madame L was always 'impecc' as they say here - she was always elegant, bien coiffé and her back would be ramrod straight. With Olympian self-control, she never showed a sign that I was mangling the French language as I surely must have been back then. She'd been brought up near Oradour-sur-Glane, a name that, even today, still resonates with many. When she found out that I was in the RAF I could do no wrong.. and she and her husband treated us like family. Under her watchful eye, the hotel and the restaurant ran like clockwork.

Had lunch out on the terrace today which is shaded until about 2pm. Afterwards, I brewed up a Turkish coffee and lit a wee cigarillo. The heat was fully on today - think the forecast is for 26 but it feels hotter - and it lay upon us like a warm, damp blanket. All that could be heard was the distant roar of the traffic and nearer to home, the buzzing of bees as they worked their way around the garden while I watched the blue tendrils of smoke rising up on an absolutely still day.

17th August 2011. The 2011 Rugby World Cup approaches. Can anyone see a repeat of this scoreline..?

Nice programme on France 3 this evening - Des Racines et des Ailes - it featured Guadeloupe (which I missed) and the Pyrenees.. Some spectacular photography. Not sure if the link will work outside France though.

18th August 2011. If one glass is good... then surely two glasses is better.. non? (Good try!)

20th August 2011. A hot & humid row on the river this morning - did 14km in an VIII. (Running total: 929km). Went for a walk in Biarritz this evening to cool off - trouble was, at 10pm it was still 32C! It did feel a bit odd to be walking around in the dark with the temps up there..

21st August 2011. Thought I'd take some heavy wooden shutters down this morning and paint them (Rouge Basque - what else!) in the relative cool of the garage. Just finished and looking at our thermometer which is in the shade, it's already 29.. which explains why I'm drenched. That pastis is going to hit the spot..!

We lurked in the 'coolth' of indoors most of today as the temperature climbed.. and then climbed some more. It peaked at 37 (98°F) this afternoon.. before it mercifully cooled off. By 8pm it was cool enough to take the dog out for his long awaited walk after he'd spent the day spread-eagled on the tiled floor in the kitchen.. We had a 5 minute downpour late in the evening and sometime during the night we had a Close Encounter of a Meteorological Kind as I'm sure I heard the wind howling outside rattling the shutters.

22nd August 2011. This morning..? All appears as normal again.. Word of the day? Easy - it's canicule.. or - as we Anglos would say - a heat wave. El Scorchio again this afternoon.. Spent the morning painting some more shutters and the garage doors while it was relatively cool but, having just returned from posting some mail, I'm dripping again.. 30 in the shade.. (mustn't grumble!)


Lesley said...

Ascain looks perfect and so clean, there does not look to be a plant out of place.

Pipérade said...

You've got it in one.. When we used to stay there for our annual holidays, we'd be out and about every day - mixing it with the holiday traffic in Biarritz, St Jean de Luz or perhaps San Sebastian - so coming back to the peace and tranquillity of Ascain in the evening was just what we needed. House prices there reflect that though as you might expect.