Thursday, 6 October 2011

167. Indian summer in the Pays Basque

5th October 2011. Sorry for being a stranger lately but I've been busy with a large lump of work that's come my way. I've been sat here polishing the seat of my pants for the last few weeks poring over a couple of large technical dictionaries.. but as we're in a natural break of a few days I thought I'd try and keep you up to date with all the news that's fit to print from the Pays Basque. 

First of all, how about a quick burst of Edith Piaf as she gets to grips with Milord.. a 1959 hit for her, with the distinctive sound of that jangly street piano.
And while we're at it, it's been a long time - too long - since I've featured this next one - which is top of my list of music videos - straight from the Django Reinhardt festival in New York City. With such a group of virtuoso performers it's difficult to single out one but for me, the clarinettist is in a league of his own:

Boulevard Thiers
Bar Basque
6th October 2011. For the past few months I've been exchanging emails with Perry & Caroline (the friendly Anglo-Dutch couple behind Tiens!) - they live just to the east of Tarbes. They were taking a short break in the Pays Basque - renting a gîte at St Jean Pied de Port - and they'd struck lucky with the Indian summer that's been upon us for the last couple of weeks. We'd arranged to meet at - where else! - the Bar Basque (above right) in the Boulevard Thiers (above left) at St Jean de Luz. Despite not having met them face to face before - I'd only exchanged a few words over the phone with Perry - it soon felt as though our acquaintance stretched back much longer. A pity they live so far away. After our apéro, they were off to tackle a plateau de fruits de mer..  at Kaïku in what I call "Restaurant Strasse" - more usually known as Rue de la République (between the Place Louis XIV and the beach)
Now if you can just take a step backwards while I deal with this, I'll be back shortly..!

On the way home I noticed that the council has started the annual pruning of the platanes.. This always gives a stark look to the streets and is a reminder that the season is changing.
The Rugby World Cup.. ah yes.. My money's on Ireland. Sorry if anyone's offended!

8th October 2011. Up early this morning to watch the Wales Ireland game.. one of the best games of this RWC in my humble opinion. Ireland weren't allowed by Wales to play their game and the result was a great win for Wales.. 22-10. They looked very impressive indeed.

A hour later it was England's turn. Hmmm. France won a competitive match 19-12 but I think they'll struggle against the in-form Welsh. I don't think England started with their best XV.. But, based on my previous predictions, I wouldn't get too upset about that if you're a Bleu supporter! 

9th October 2011. The Rugby World cup is coming to the boil now.. this morning Australia surprised me by taking the semi-final spot ahead of South Africa.. while New Zealand predictably dispatched the Pumas. So one half of the draw sees a mighty Australia New Zealand battle while the other sees France taking on Wales. The problem for me is that if I'm watching a game I like to be able to root for one side against t' other. All Blacks vs Wallabies? I've never been a fan of All Black or Australian rugby - but the current Wallabies play with an invention and a freedom that's very watchable so I'll be packing down with them in any of the scrums. France vs Wales? That's more difficult as they're both the traditional enemy in rugby terms. I suppose I'd like to see France sent home early - with my money riding on the Welsh now to win the Webb-Ellis cup.. (if Ireland couldn't!) Bring the cup back to the UK - even if it would be to the Welsh part! I should add for any Welsh reading this that I'm 25% Welsh so be gentle with me!

10th October 2011. I was watching Télé Matin on France 2 this morning and one of the news items was that it would have been John Lennon's 71st birthday today. I must admit that the story of his astonishing rise from an unpromising start in an anonymous suburb to worldwide fame intrigues me still. It was just short of 50 years ago that he and his group exploded into global consciousness and the mention of his name on French TV this morning shows that his name still retains all the old power it had. For those of you who, like me, grew up in that era here's a film about his early years that explains much about his development into the person he became..   

12th October 2011. Yesterday we had a few hours in San Sebastian. Each time we go there I'm reminded just what a civilised town it is. It grows on me with each visit. There are squares with fountains, pedestrianised areas, wide pavements, elegant brown stone apartment buildings, some fascinating shops (what am I saying?!), friendly people and not forgetting La Concha.. the definitive bay with its great crescent-shaped expanse of yellow (nearly said golden!) sand. To my mind San Sebastian is as good as it gets. The bonus for us is that it's only a short 45 minute drive away - and parking isn't a problem.
15th October 2011. We headed off across the border into Spain yesterday for some essential shopping at Dancharia - so after picking up Madame in town where she'd been, I decided to take the old route that we used to take when we were in the gîte. It was a morning under a cloudless sky, the country roads were deserted and again I realised as we passed by our old gîte that 4 years had somehow passed by. The pale outline of La Rhune lay to the south rising above the silvery early morning haze with the endless jagged hills and mountains of the Pyrenees extending away to the east. After Ustaritz, we headed for Cambo before taking the turn off for Larressore (where traditional Makhilas are still being made as they always have been). It was through Larressore that the Comet Line established a new route for the escaping Allied airmen in WWII after it became too dangerous to use the St Jean de Luz/Ciboure/Urrugne route. Many escaping aircrew owe their freedom to the bravery shown by the people of Sutar (partic. the Restaurant Larre), Larressore, Espelette, Souraïde and Dancharia. I think it's fair to say that this development of the Comet Line escape route into Spain is not as well known as the original route. 
As we emerged onto the road for Espelette the broad expanse of the Pyrenees lay before us. The fields and trees glistened as the low bright sun picked up the early morning dew. A few blue grey clouds clung to the sides of the higher mountains. We reminded ourselves again what a stunning corner of France this is. Once through the picture postcard village of Espelette, we took a winding side road that took us up into the hills to Ainhoa (one of France's most beautiful villages) and then a short run down to the unmanned border and Dancharia. We had the roads to ourselves and the country was looking at its best with the trees just starting to turn russet greeny/brown - I should have had the camera with us.

On the return we stopped off at Espelette at Antton - the chocolatier.. (available online.. website in English here - just do it!) They make their own chocolate on the premises and the rich smell of chocolate is all-pervading. As we walked in, we were greeted by the two ladies who offered us some chocolate to taste.. You have as much chance of leaving empty handed here as you do when viewing puppies! All I can say is the chocolate doesn't disappoint.. far from it. I could taste its lingering richness all the way home. Worth remembering this address with Christmas in mind. We bought a bag of "La Ganache au Piment d'Espelette". This is dark chocolate with an inspired pinch of piment.. It's right up there with the best chocolate we've tasted. Madame's eyes glazed over when she tried some last night..

16th October 2011. What can I say about Wales.. A moment of madness allied with an arguably harsh refereeing decision saw Wales reduced to 14 men 20 minutes into the match with France after a fine attacking start. However, once they'd got used to the idea that 14 Welshmen would be more than enough to see off a lack-lustre French side they simply carried on where they'd left off. They took the game to France in fine style while the French XV seemed bereft of any coherent attacking ideas of their own. Wales scored the only try of the match with a fine effort by Mike Phillips - who'll be playing for Bayonne this next season.
The only French player to emerge with any credit was the truly classy Maxime Médard. If only the Welsh kicking game had been slightly more accurate they'd be in the final. They scored the only try of the game and I don't think France could have scored even if Wales had left the field. Final score 9-8 to France.

Still, you have to hand it to Les Bleus.. They've played poorly throughout this tournament (beating an even poorer England side by only a  converted try) and yet here they are in the final - having lost already to the All Blacks and Tonga.. I fully expect that either the All Blacks or the Aussies will administer a mighty stuffing to them next weekend. I wouldn't like to see a team that has played such undistinguished rugby walk away with the World Cup.

Yesterday evening I finished the latest instalment of work on my PC at ~6pm and I made a couple of drinks for Madame and her ever-so-'umble servant.. We sat on the terrace on a warm, still evening watching the light fade with a sangria and a wee whisky.. Ah, that felt good! So good in fact, we had another!

Pain aux raisins
There was an early burst of activity at Pipérade Towers this morning as I tried to squeeze in a few jobs before the All Blacks-Wallabies match (kick off at 10am). After a trip to the well-run council déchetterie on the banks of the Adour to dump some garden rubbish, I continued along the river bank for another km as far as the roundabout (above left) with the France-Asia supermarket (map here). Just across the roundabout is a baker - and it's here that, in my opinion, they make the best baguettes in Bayonne. They make all their own bread and cakes on the premises and their baguette tradition is always a pleasure to eat - a crispy crust and a good length. The real star of the show though is their pain aux raisins.. In addition to a baguette tradition, I bought a pain aux raisins this morning. I've eaten pain aux raisins the length and breadth of France and this was the best I've ever had.. Moist, light, buttery yellow, generously filled with raisins - exactly as they should be and at 0.93€ they're far cheaper than the bakers in the centre of Bayonne (1.25€!). Another 5 star recommendation. Driving back home along the river, the sun made an appearance and gilded the surface of the water. Another great picture if only I'd had my camera with me.. (Think there's a message here!)

I saw the first 50 minutes or so of the NZ - Australia match until it struck me that it was really unwatchable - all crash, bang, wallop - and I wasn't enjoying watching it so I switched off. It all reminded me of rugby league in the sixties - two lines of players facing each other and the interminable pick and go's, grinding out another yard of territory. Is it me? - but exactly what is it about the All Blacks and their boss-eyed supporters that makes them so peculiarly and so spectacularly unlovable? First, there's the increasingly bizarre 'Haka' which, frankly, I couldn't give a toss about even if it is supposedly representative of some ancient South Pacific cultural heritage but each year it evolves and gets choreographed to become (yawn..) 'more frightening'.

Here's the original Hand Jive with Johnny "Mr Lip Sync" Otis - with three ladies who could teach the All Blacks the right way to do the 'Haka'!
And here's the 1973 version - where the ABs look like a bunch of embarrassed blokes demonstrating the Macarena (having done the 5 minute course on the radio!). Notice that in those days that the 'Haka' was performed for the crowd..
And this is what it's become.. how can anyone take this seriously..?
I think their opponents should just leave the ABs to their willy-waving shtick and go for a stroll around the stadium, or wave to their loved ones at home, eat an ice cream or read the paper.. The notion that the opponents should respect the 'Haka' is laughable! I've never understood why the IRB have, over the years, allowed them to perpetuate this tired old bit of hokum.. which sends the message that the following 80 minutes aren't going to be so much as a sporting contest as open warfare. As far as I'm concerned, the ABs have always played a uniquely brutal brand of ultra-physical rugby - enlivened only by the home crowd giving vent to some imaginative singing: “All Blacks….. All Blacks….. All Blacks….. All Blacks….. All Blacks…" ad infinitum. I’d like to have seen an Australian  win.. (and it's not often you'll hear me say that!)

As for next Sunday's final, to be honest I don’t care who wins - France don't deserve it the way they've played so far - but then I don’t want the All Blacks to win either.. The classic case of two bald men fighting over a comb. Let's hope that France can raise their game, play some memorable rugby and then, who knows, anything might happen. Think I’ll be tidying my sock drawer and hoping for a northern hemisphere win..

Now - lean back, forget all about rugby, click on 'play' below, close your eyes and enjoy Chet Baker's version of 'Autumn leaves'..
before finishing up with this - from 'Chet Baker in Tokyo' - Almost Blue (no video - just the music):


Anonymous said...

Muy bueno el vídeo de jazz!

Pipérade said...

Muchas gracias.. me encanta demasiado!

POW16783 said...

I have yet to try Fruit de Mer......maybe next summer.

Pipérade said...

No need to wait.. try one now.
We had one here for New Year's Eve.. Tick VG!

GFH said...

Glad to see some new postings. I have been using your blogs to help educate myself on Le Pays Basque and have found them very informative and interesting. This should help when we visit the area in December. Your profile said you have enjoyed reading "The Last Grain Race" numerous times. Thought of that last weekend while sitting on the "Moshulu" having a glass of wine with my wife. This is the 4 masted bark that Eric Newby sailed on and the book is that story. It is an impressive vessel. It is now a restaurant, berthed on the Delaware River in Philadelphia, PA.
Regards - GFH

Pipérade said...

Hi G,
Many thanks for the picture of 'Moshulu'.. Yes, you're right, my copy of EN's first book "The Last Grain Race" is indeed well-thumbed. It's good to know that the ship is enjoying a well-earned retirement.
As far as the blog is concerned, I'm afraid I've had my eye off the ball lately as I've picked up some work which is going to keep me off the streets for a good few months. I will try to add to it whenever I get the chance.
Pays Basque in December? You'll love it!

Anonymous said...

Buenos días, Piperade, Sorry to hear you are not going to be able to add posts to your blog so often! Be sure I have become a fan of it! and will keep all the info for my visits. Mucha suerte con el trabajo que comenta!
Saludos cordiales. Ines

Pipérade said...

Ola Ines,
Glad you're enjoying it.. It's not difficult to write about Euskadi (Pais Vasco/Pays Basque) as it has such a strong and unique identity.
The difficult part at the moment is finding the time! Although I'm enjoying the work, I'll be glad when it's finished - then I'll have more time to explore this beautiful part of the world.
Gracias de nuevo por los comentarios de su clase, mis mejores deseos..