Wednesday, 23 November 2011

170. Dark nights in the Pays Basque

23rd November 2011. This morning I was at the coiffeurs getting coiffed (that's a haircut to you and me..) by the coiffeuse when I asked her about a nice old house across the road that had clearly been standing empty for a long while. In the few years since I'd first noticed it, it had been looking increasingly forlorn and severely in need of major restoration. Apparently it had belonged to a notaire but, for some unfathomable reason, he'd allowed it to go to rack and ruin. However, over the past few months, it has been finally getting 'the treatment' from a small army of artisans who have been hard at work putting it back in order. The word is that it's going to be a bank and I was told that it had been sold 'à la bougie' (English translation here) at the Town Hall.
I had to look this up as it was a new term to me. It seems that this is an ancient method, dating from the 15th century, of controlling the sale of property at an auction. For voluntary sales, properties are commonly sold à la bougie. Whoever is running the auction lights a small candle to start the bidding. This burns until the last bid is made, at which point another candle is lit. Both candles must then burn out without another bid being made, then the final bid is considered as accepted.

There's another of these run-down properties, a large Basque house dating from the '20s, just around the corner from here which is receiving armloads of TLC.. I shudder to think what the final bill will be as there's been a constant to-ing and fro-ing of specialists of all kinds with their ubiquitous white vans outside for at least 4-5 months. The first thing to go was the roof - all the tiles came off and then all the old roof beams were junked before a new roof was built and tiled. My guess is that the new owner won't see much change from a million euros. I remember the asking price wasn't far off half a million - unrestored.

With just over a month to go, you'd be hard-pressed to spot any sign of impending Christmas here - I haven't seen any Christmas lights up yet. It's far from the cash register churning event it's evolved into in the UK with the nature, trend and volume of retail sales being reported, analysed and talked to death by 'retail experts' in the main evening news. Here, I see that the Christmas village for kids is being set up in front of the Town Hall from 1st-24th December.
I had to resort to ordering some Christmas cards via the internet as greeting card shops are thin on the ground here. In the UK, greeting card shops are embedded in every High Street and there's a card for every occasion. A different story here - there's not much choice when it comes to Christmas cards as the custom is to send New Year cards rather than Christmas cards or, heaven forbid, Happy Winter Holiday cards - don't start me off!

Christmas is more of a family-orientated day here with practically none of the razzamatazz that seems part and parcel of it elsewhere. Christmas dinner takes place on Christmas Eve which is all well and good - until Christmas Day arrives.. It's absolutely no hardship at all for me to sit down to a groaning table on Christmas Eve - the difficulty comes when you're faced with relative abstinence the following day, particularly after a lifetime of being programmed to eat Christmas dinner on Christmas Day! Solution? A French Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve and an English Christmas dinner on Christmas Day - followed by a call to DynoRod®..!

One thing I do miss about Christmas in the UK is the annual showing on TV of "Where Eagles Dare" - without which no respectable senior programme editor would deem the Christmas period programming to be complete - though I've never quite seen the seasonal link between it and Christmas.. (PS One of the best openings of any film!)

I'm away in the south of France next week for a few days for a meeting with my customer. I've just dispatched an almighty wodge of work (technical term!) to him and so next week, I'm hopping on the TGV to Paris - yes, Paris! - before changing stations and catching another TGV to come all the way back down south again. While we're talking about TGVs, here's a reminder of the current world record holder at just shy of 360mph..(yes, miles per hour!) 
Having looked at all the options (air, road, train) it turned out that this was the optimum method of doing the journey.. It's only when faced with planning a trip like this that you realise just how Paris-centric the transport infrastructure is. (Note to self: need to brush up on how to knot a tie again!)

Looking out of the window in the last few minutes, it seemed to go dark suddenly in the space of a few minutes. As the sun is well over the yard arm I think the time could be ripe for an 'attitude adjuster'..

26th November 2011. A cold and misty outing on the river this morning in a coxless IV. There was a good turn-out and we managed to put out a couple of VIIIs and maybe 5-6 IVs. As we gained the upper reaches of the Nive we entered a monochrome world - not of black and white - with a weak sun breaking through the morning mist and lighting the scene in the palest of yellows. At one point we looked behind us and an VIII was silhouetted against the golden light as the crew turned it around and - as one - we all wished we'd had our cameras with us..  (14km)

Into Bayonne this afternoon with the dog looking for ideas for Christmas. Spotted a few likely candidates - such as these marrons glacés - and one or two other things.
Forgot to mention that SaxMan™ is back in town.. he was standing outside Galeries Lafayette playing another endlessly repeated riff.

Here's something to take your minds off the cold weather.. this was the absolutely mesmerising intermission act during the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin.. Warning: Don't try this at home! (especially not in your slippers!)

This next one launches into a series of Riverdance clips.. I've heard that many people on the internet are reputed to have the attention span of the average goldfish☺but if you've never seen 'Riverdance' - stick with it.. you'll be amazed! Step forward to around 1:15..
We saw the 'Riverdance' show in the UK and what an unforgettable experience that was..!

And finally, here's something I found earlier - a magnificent slow-motion clip (1,000 frames/sec) of an eagle owl about to rip to shreds that nice silk tie that Auntie Ethel gave you for Christmas last year - it's best in full screen!


GFH said...

Glad to see you are back at the blog again. Love to learn those little tid-bits like "a la bougie".. Can't believe that I will be visiting Bayonne in 10 days..Your blogs have provided numerous ideas of things to do and places to see. Please put in an order for some decent weather. How to knot a tie should come back with no trouble, sort of like always remembering how to ride a bike.

Pipérade said...

Try and get down to the beach at Anglet - there's a nice walk along there (heading south towards Biarritz) where you can watch the Atlantic rollers come crashing in.. (it's called the Plage des Corsaires and the surfers'll still be out there surfing all through Christmas and New Year.. No better place to blow the cobwebs away! Hope you have good weather for your visit!
'Must sees' include: Biarritz & St Jean de Luz (of course), San Sebastian, Ascain & Sare..

Lesley said...

My husband had a 'funny turn' with a tie for a village funeral the other week. I had to dismiss the thought of wearing high(ish) heeled shoes.
Our wardrobe has certainly changed in our six years in SW France. I suspect that Paris would be very different.

Pipérade said...

A couple of years ago we were up in Paris for Christmas and after putting my tie around my neck, it all came to a grinding halt for a few seconds. You'd think, wouldn't you, that after wearing a tie just about every day for ~40 years that tieing one would be an automatic action. Wrong!
What was the problem with the shoes? Forgotten how to walk in them?
I've got business suits (& a DJ), jackets, formal shirts and a squillion ties hanging up in wardrobes gathering dust - might wear a jacket next week but then it's back to casual..
Pity as I always enjoyed Mess functions.

Lesley said...

My Mess Dress was an ugly, blue-grey silk, nasty, difficult to get in and out of dress designed by a woman-hating man no doubt. The only plus thing was we were 'allowed' to wear a string of pearls and my Mum & Dad bought me some lovely ones. Uniform heeled shoes that were easy to walk in and kind to the feet finished off the ensemble. That was 40 years ago so things may well have changed. I hadn't thought of that for AGES...

Pipérade said...

My view of all that is that I think the ladies should have been allowed to wear 'civvies' for Mess functions. Never thought they quite looked their best in their Mess dress. However, I'm sure some owld duffer somewhere would complain..!
It was still the same when I left in '98.

Lesley said...

Was it the tie with the little mice motif all over it? What good eyesight has the eagle owl.

John said...

Hi Geoff

Thanks for throwing in some Riverdance...

It's said that there are many shared influences between Irish and American music and dance; and that the word jazz comes from the Irish word 'teas', meaning heat.

Pipérade said...

That eagle owl is not something to argue with.. it means business.
Always happy to include 'Riverdance' - the band were equally as good as well - I'd've paid just to listen to them.