Tuesday, 28 June 2011

154. Lunch in the Pays Basque..

28th June 2011. Just back from a very pleasant lunch to mark the passing of another marital kilometre stone. We returned to 'our' old restaurant where we'd spent many happy holidays in the past. They have a nice new set menu now that includes 2 glasses of wine.

Today, we started off with a celebratory glass of champagne before the food arrived.. Madame had chosen to start with a delicious salad with St Jacques (scallops) while your scribe had foie gras. Despite the menu offer of 2 glasses of wine, in typically generous fashion Bernadette (the owner) brought us a 50cl carafe of Colombelle white wine instead (must try and find where to buy this locally).

For the main course, we'd chosen the pièce du boucher (for 2) fully expecting a quivering chunk of juicy beef. However, when Bernadette brought it, the oval serving platter was covered with slices of v rare beef.. (just as we like it!). And somehow, between leaving the kitchen and arriving at our table, the two glasses of red that we were expecting were transformed into another 50cl carafe of rouge..!

We were surrounded by dog lovers and Chibby (our cocker) was in his element. A couple at a neighbouring table asked - "Does he like sausage..?" (Was the Pope Polish? Do bears.. etc etc) It reminded me of when we went to the Jura last year and we had lunch at Madame's cousin. Pooch had the charm cranked up to max and, after 2 minutes at the table, we had the classic question - "Your dog looks hungry - don't you ever feed him?"  (he should get an Oscar!) Here he is with his famous impression - "The light's on but there's nobody in.."

And then to cap it all - with the coffee, Bernadette offered me a large complimentary armagnac. According to a 14th century cardinal, armagnac has forty virtues: 
"It makes disappear redness and burning of the eyes, and stops them from tearing; it cures hepatitis, sober consumption adhering. It cures gout, cankers, and fistula by ingestion; restores the paralysed member by massage; and heals wounds of the skin by application. It enlivens the spirit, partaken in moderation, recalls the past to memory, renders men joyous, preserves youth and retards senility. And when retained in the mouth, it loosens the tongue and emboldens the wit, if someone timid from time to time himself permits."
I've said this before but they really spoil us..

Afterwards, we went around to the kitchen and met J-M, the great stalwart in the kitchen, who's been there for years. Built like a rugby prop forward (which is not surprising since he was one), he's a superb chef and we were surprised to hear that he's retiring next year. He always looked after us well. Needless to say, we had a prolonged walk around the village before setting off for home.

Here's a nice evening shot of the 'our' village with the restaurant in darkness just below the church. 

30th June 2011. There were surprisingly few down at the river this evening - just enough to put together a coxless IV and a pair.. I was out in the IV and it went quite well.. we did 16km. (Running total: 823km) There was enough of a wind blowing up river to form waves. However, boats like ours don't ride waves, they just cut through them and with their low freeboard they are vulnerable to shipping water at speed! Most of us were well & truly soaked by the time we got back to the pontoon!
I was just deleting some old files when I found this old clip.. Now, be honest, who amongst us hasn't ever tried to dance the syrtaki when on holiday in Greece..? Scroll forward to around 06:25..
I was once quite a dab hand at it.. late at night, with a few ouzos onboard, by the light of the silvery moon etc etc.. Hup-haaaa!

Not long after we were married, I took Madame to what was advertised as the last unspoilt Greek island. Walking barefoot along the beach there one evening, just as I was about to put my foot down, I caught sight of something glittering in the sand right where my foot was going.. Aargh! A hypodermic syringe.. Talk about a mood-shattering moment.. What with that and the late night bars for the tourists (young N Europeans mainly) selling 'slammers' - cheap spirits guaranteed to put them straight into an instant coma - well, yes - I thought the islands had changed greatly since I lived there in the sixties.

2nd July 2011. Hot morning on the river - felt like 24° or so.. Had a very forgettable outing in a coxless IV - which actually got worse as we went on. Lack of concentration, timing all over the place, sloppy bladework, untidy finishes, rushing on the slides - where to start! Did 15km (Running total: 838km).

The DSK affair rumbles on.. I must admit to finding it slightly strange that a poor black woman in New York who reportedly has $100,000 in the bank was still working as a chambermaid! It's odd that no-one has mentioned this so far. Think there's much to emerge still in this case.

In the meantime, I think a restorative armagnac could well be on the cards this evening.. bearing in mind all the benefits I can expect according to that list above!

Saturday, 25 June 2011

153. Thoughts on midsummer

21st June 2011. We've arrived at the longest day of the year.. and no doubt Stonehenge will have been well & truly hugged this morning by touchy-feely New Age crystal gazers et al. There's a good cross-section of them here on this clip as well as the beginnings of that old hippy stand-by - the circle dance.

My reliable old BS Detector flicked straight into the RED zone and almost burnt out when I saw what Father Christmas gets up to in the above clip between January and November..! It keeps them off the streets I guess.

I visited Stonehenge about 20 years ago and it was a curious experience. These old stones have defied a convincing explanation over the years and, standing as they do at the side of a busy main road, I found it difficult to separate them from the mundane everyday world that passes by. However, they continue to fascinate and intrigue each successive generation and their mute silence seems to exert a powerful hold over those of alternative views. So now we have druids there in some make-believe ceremony greeting the sunrise accompanied by - and I'm guessing here - flutes and bongos..
There's another site at Carnac in Brittany with rows of standing stones that remains mysterious to this day. 

Another hot outing this evening in a beautifully built wooden shell coxed quad sculler.. I must admit to being glad to see the clubhouse again afterwards! 13km (Running Total: 779km).

There's the Fête de la Musique tonight in Bayonne.. and on Saturday, there's the Marché Montmartre where local artists exhibit their work in the streets around the cathedral.

22nd June 2011. We drove up to Condom in the Gers today to meet up with A & I for lunch (A is an old colleague and was on holiday up near Bergerac). France is a big country and that was brought home to us (I mean me!) as we had a long drive (almost 3 hours) in the rain to Condom (which hadn't looked that far on the map!) past vast fields of rustling corn - which, curiously, despite the rain, were still being watered. There were fields of sunflowers too, all focused on where the sun should have been. And then there were the vines. Row upon countless row of vines.

After driving through a largely empty landscape, we entered the small village of Montréal and there was a sudden clustering of a large number of creatively parked cars.. and the slightly surreal sight of a crowd of people who were all engaged in playing boules or pétanque (is there a difference?) - in the rain.

It was good to see A & I again and we enjoyed a nice little lunch here.. Tried some of the local white wine - Domaine de Monluc - which I'd like to be able to find locally but I don't think there's much chance of that. 

We went for a walk around Condom afterwards and visited the Musée de l'Armagnac - but not the Musée du Préservatif which celebrates the product for which Condom is perhaps better known. (I've kept you waiting a few paragraphs for this - in Condom, even the buses come in threes..!) If you really must, scroll down this link for an idea of what awaits you there if you decide to visit.

Finally, we hove upon La Librairie Gourmande (3 Place Bossuet) which is a bookshop-cum-tea shop on three floors and highly recommended! The menu featured page after page of various teas, coffees and hot chocolate - none of us had ever seen such a variety and choice. The friendly owner also serves her own cakes - which were moist and delectable - and the customer is invited to graze from the surrounding bookshelves at the same time. I needed dislodging with a pointed stick! 

23rd June 2011. Another sultry evening on the river in the same boat we had on Tuesday.. 14km (Running Total: 793km)

24th June 2011. Went to St Jean de Luz in the afternoon - which was girding its loins for celebrating its Fête.. many people in red and black.. with temporary bars set up in the streets ready for the evening. After, we called in at our friends' restaurant in 'our' village where we always used to stay. Had a sangria under the platanes outside and realised with something of a shock that it was 20 years ago this summer that we made our first visit there. Back then, we were staying at another small hotel in the village but it was quite noisy at night as it overlooked the fronton.

We asked in the restaurant if they knew of anywhere else in the village where we could stay and next minute, the chef (the father of P, the current owner) emerged from the kitchen in his whites and his tall chef's hat and said he'd take us somewhere.. He jumped in his open-topped 2CV (right) and, with his chef's hat poking out through the roof in the breeze, he careered off at speed through the village - with me sticking to him like glue - before pulling up outside a white painted Basque house 5 minutes away. There, we were offered a spotless chambre d'hôte room (ie, B&B) for £10 a night - and this was in the height of the season. Many happy memories of summer holidays in that village.

25th June 2011. Warm out there on the river this morning - did 14km in a coxed quad sculler. Not the best outing of the week. (Running total: 807km)

It was hot out on our west-facing terrace last night so I made a couple of caipirinhas.. which really hit the spot. The Met lady is forecasting temps of 36C for here today and tomorrow.

26th June 2011. I've mentioned Tiens! before here - it's a privately produced free online magazine about South West France that, in my view, has set the standard for fascinating content, design & beautiful photography - and all accompanied by great music. Produced by Perry & Caroline Taylor (a creative Anglo-Dutch couple) in partnership with Marc & Jacqueline Receveur-van der Grinten as a labour of love, Tiens! reflects their view of life in la France profonde by scratching below the surface to reveal the old values, habits, customs and traditions of a rural France that are in danger of disappearing in the face of the relentless advance of modernity. As far as I know, no-one 'out there' is doing anything remotely similar that portrays these aspects of rural French life so lovingly.

Tiens! - Issue #1
Tiens! - Pilot issue
Here are the first issues of Tiens! - I found Tiens! to be the most charming, informative and interesting read about rural south west France.

Unfortunately, time is up for Tiens! and regrettably the editorial team of Caroline, Jacqueline, Perry & Marc have no plans to continue producing it beyond Issue 3.

Tiens! - Issue #2
Up until now, Tiens! has been distributed freely by word of mouth. I believe it's worth better than that. If ever something was crying out for sponsorship or financial support, it's Tiens!

If you know of someone, perhaps in broadcasting, the media or publishing, whose interests cover this area then why not give them a nudge, and send them a copy of Tiens! I'd be extremely surprised if they didn't fall under its spell and see its potential. Go on!

Saturday, 18 June 2011

152. St Jean de Luz in the late afternoon sunshine

18th June 2011. Late yesterday afternoon we decided to zip down to St Jean de Luz (25 mins from Pipérade Towers) for some retail therapy (hold me back!). As we drove the few km south down the autoroute, the horizon opened up at one point to reveal a great expanse of the not-so-distant Pyrenees shimmering in a misty blue heat haze - this view never fails to inspire us.
The car said it was 27C and it certainly felt like summer when we arrived at St Jean - the beach was quite crowded and a few people were swimming. We stopped at the Glaces Lopez concession on Boulevard Thiers - difficult not to - and 'people-watched' for a few minutes while we ate our delicious ice creams (chocolat noir and stracciatella). We noticed that the shop windows were full of red and black pants, shirts, foulards etc and, sure enough, it wasn't long before we saw a sign for the Fêtes Patronales de St Jean de Luz. (above left) It all kicks off next weekend when it's more or less de rigueur to wear red & black. The Fête Patronale usually combines all of these - dancing the fandango, confetti wars, strolling bands, eating, singing, sangria and usually the toro fuego to finish up with - which is totally bonkers!

We had 2 English girls visiting us down here years ago and, at the height of the high jinks, one of them turned to us and asked a little plaintively, "Is it always this lively?" (that phrase has entered our vocabulary!)

Boulevard Thiers still runs along the sea front but it no longer looks like this (left) - only a couple of these elegant seaside villas remain - unfortunately the remainder were demolished long ago to be replaced by 60s multi-storey apartment blocks. And nowadays, both sides of the boulevard are lined with parked cars.

After finishing the shopping, we returned to Boulevard Thiers to stop off at the newly re-juvenated 'Bar Basque' (right) for a sangria. All the tables and chairs outside have been replaced with swish new ones, there's a new menu, the waiters are friendly and if you're ever at a loose end in St Jean, there are many worse places to twiddle it in than the 'Bar Basque'. Sitting with a drink under the trees in the late afternoon sunshine watching the world go by, I'd be hard-pushed to think of anywhere else I'd rather be. All the elemental colours of the Basque flag were there - the white of the buildings, the Basque red shutters and doors, the green of the trees under a burning blue sky. And while you're contemplating all that, their drinks list features some classic cocktails too..

The Boulevard Thiers runs through the chic part of St Jean de Luz. If your S.O. (significant other) feels her shopping low level warning light come on, you could suggest that you park yourself at the 'Bar Basque' thus leaving her free to ramble and roam without that nagging feeling that two steps behind her lurks Mr Grumpy who's got half an eye cocked on his wrist watch.

And if you ever find a large bunch of keys to an apartment anywhere on Boulevard Thiers jangling in your pocket, you'll know that you've landed on your feet. Lined with well-groomed evergreen trees (I'm not sure if they're eucalyptus or  magnolia - or neither), a few steps from the beach and handy for all parts of town, Boulevard Thiers really is the ne plus ultra as far as I'm concerned.   

Went down to the river this morning under heavy grey skies - it had rained overnight - and no sooner had we got out on the river in an VIII than it started raining.. Ah well, it's only water (it says here). Did 14km (Running total: 766km).

A propos of nothing - this sign from European trains advising passengers not to lean out of the windows always used to amuse me - not entirely sure why though:
The German phrase sounded to me as though it should be shouted, whereas in French it sounds like something a Frenchman might whisper to his girlfriend last thing at night. The Italian one comes straight from a menu.. "I'd like the pericoloso sporgersi and a bottle of San Pellegrino per favore." That's the danger of national stereotyping for you!

19th June 2011. The window's wide open, there's not a cloud in the sky and the birds are twittering (not tweeting!) outside.. Going to be warm today.

No lawn or hedge has been harmed in the writing of this post. 

Here are some tips for travellers dated 1937 - how times have changed:

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

151. An English lawn in the Pays Basque

As it was
15th June 2011. It's been a quiet week in the Pays Basque (with apologies to Garrison Keillor!) Starting a lawn from scratch here has proved trickier than I ever would have believed. When we moved in here in February 2008, the 'lawn' was a mess - it was choked with weeds and dandelions (pronounced dandellyons by Madame!) with many bare patches of hard-packed earth. I started pulling the weeds out one by one but, after I'd done a small area, I realised I was wasting my time as there was hardly any grass remaining after the weeds had gone. After looking at the price of turf, I thought it would be cheaper to re-seed. This meant digging it all over, putting in fertiliser and a lot of new soil, leveling it and re-seeding. So - it was out with the spades and the forks. Digging it over took me a week as just below the surface lay a tangled web of roots from the surrounding trees and bushes. Heaving out as many of the firmly-entrenched roots as I could manage filled ten 50 litre sacks - and lopped 5 years off my three score years and ten.. I put in a lawn edging strip to try and contain the lawn neatly at the borders and then I started building up the level with soil. I've long lost count of how many 50 litre sacks of earth and fertiliser I've put in but it's well over a hundred. I seeded and then stood back to watch and wait.

Lawns flourish in England's mild & well-watered climate but that of the Pays Basque is more challenging with its fierce summer sun and infrequent but torrential downpours of rain. 

Early results were illusory (right) - the lawn looked promising but it gradually faded and we ended up with dead burnt patches. I think the tree's roots were sucking up much of the water and so a couple of years ago, we had it taken out. As it came down, we discovered that it had been dying on us - much of it was rotten. After re-seeding with different grass and achieving mixed results I bit the bullet and turfed the lower half. Madame has been raking it all and putting liquid fertiliser on it and I think we must be doing something right as this year it's finally starting to look pretty good. We've also been making good use of the water barrel to keep newly sown patches well-watered. The birds remain a problem though. For some reason, they keep pecking holes in it. The little treasures!

Did a search on YouTube for a suitable clip about mowing lawns and came up with this.. (don't ask!)

Monday, 13 June 2011

150. River bank tales 2

11th June 2011. We went to Biarritz this evening to see a new film just out - "Midnight in Paris", written and directed by Woody Allen. Regular readers of this blog (yes, both of you!) might remember I'm a Woody fan and although he doesn't appear in the film you can hear his unmistakeable views of life, death, love, sex and marriage through one of the actors. Something of a fairy tale - without giving the plot away - it's a charming film set in one of the world's most photogenic cities. Carla Bruni (or Madame Sarkozy - take your pick!) does well in her cameo role. I think it's his best film for a good few years. Well worth putting your knitting down for one night and getting your fancy duds on for a night at the cinema!
13th June 2011.  I went down to the club late yesterday morning to lend a hand with the organisation of the "3 Rivières" event. We were going to drive the rowers (well over a hundred of them) up the Adour to Peyrehorade (try saying that while eating a Cornish pasty!) where the boats lay after Saturday's epic row on the Gave. But before that, however, there was the small question of lunch. We were all to have lunch in the brasserie (on the first floor above the club). 

I squeezed into a gap on a very convivial table and I had to remind myself that once they'd finished their 3 course lunch everyone (apart from your correspondent) would soon be facing a 35km row (almost 22 miles). I think it's fair to say that, in the UK, sandwiches would have been the order of the day. Things are done differently in France however. Come what may, whatever else happens, France stops three times a day for meals. Lunch is sacrosanct. Sandwiches? Ah beh non! The main course was a delicious tagliatelle with chicken and mushrooms. Naturally, wine was served and so I, as a non-rower, had a couple of glasses. Towards the end of lunch, the word went around that a girl in one of the crews was suffering badly with blisters and I was surprised to hear some idiot offer to take her place. Unfortunately that idiot turned out to be me! I missed yet another golden opportunity to keep my mouth shut! I shot off home and quickly changed into my rowing kit before dashing back in time to leave for Peyrehorade. All the way there I was asking myself why I hadn't chosen to remain silent.. aaargghh! As it happened, once there, the girl in question decided to carry on so I was let off the hook. Phew! 

There was just the one smallish pontoon and somehow we had to get about 30 IVs down the narrow sloping ramp one at a time and into the water and away. I was there to see the last couple of IVs in the water before jumping in a small speedboat to act as security in case of problems.

Bec du Gave
Once we left the relatively narrow waters of the Gave, we joined the mighty Adour at the Bec du Gave (left). I would think that the Adour is not so well known back home, but, believe me, it makes any river in the UK look like a mere stream. The sky had been covered to start with and the air was heavy - not good rowing weather. The sun burnt off the haze and soon we were frying in that small boat as we slowly chuntered along behind the last two IVs. It was around 7.30pm when they finally arrived at the club in Bayonne. For those carrying on into the evening, there was just time for a quick shower and change before going on to a Cidrerie in Petit Bayonne. These evenings can get very lively and the whole weekend becomes a test of endurance - both in and out of the boats! 

For some reason I've been humming this tune (to myself!) for the last few hours without knowing what it was - I do this all the time! Finally, I went downstairs where Madame was slaving away in the front garden now that it's cool. Earlier I'd cut down a vast overgrown nondescript bush that the previous occupant had allowed to run wild and some of the branches had died. Extracting the roots with the aid of a sledge hammer, a pick and a spade in the mid-afternoon heat had just about finished me off so I was indoors cooling off with this tune playing over & over in my head. Once I'd hummed it to her she told me it was "Parlez-moi d'amour" and that it had been in the soundtrack of Woody Allen film we saw the other night (which is where I must have got it from). Anyway, to cut a long story short, and to implant it in your brain, here it is:

14th June 2011. Saw a story on the BBC News page this morning.. is this a blow for the few remaining beret makers in the Pays Basque? A quote from a soldier in the US Army was that it was like wearing a "wet sock" on his head. (we'll just have to take his word for that!) US Army spokesman Colonel Tom Collins told Agence France-Presse: "The beret does not have a visor and doesn't shield the sun, doesn't absorb sweat well." Well, I think the problem is that the military-style beret has lost its roots..

 The Basque beret has clearly taken a styling cue from Basque houses as they all sport overhanging roofs to shield the walls from the worst of the weather. Rain comes in only one size here - a downpour! - and the Basque beret provides a good measure of protection against the rain to the wearer. The Basque beret with its generous overhang also does a good job of providing shade for the eyes. And from what I can see as well, it doesn't appear to fit like a wet sock either! The military beret reflects the military mind - they have to look soldierly and providing the ordinary soldier with a Basque beret would be to invite even more opportunities for the ever-inventive soldiers to mould their berets into shapes that even the manufacturers could not imagine.

Friday, 10 June 2011

149. Phew...!

10th June 2011. Finally finished sorting out my PC after it was totally fried last Monday by a virus (a trojan really). It's now back to normal and I've followed advice to switch to Firefox, NoScript and WOT (Web of Trust) as well.

Had a pleasant sortie last night on the river with Y in a double sculler.. Came across a fishing rod floating in mid-stream with a live fish at one end of the line but curiously no-one at the other end. Did 12km (Running total 752km). The club was a hive of activity as preparations were well in hand for the "3 Rivières" this weekend.. when rowers from all over France converge at Bayonne to take part in a blisterfest™ - rowing 72km over the Gave, the Adour and the Nive during the course of 3 days.. Should be fun!

Someone sent me the news of the passing of one of America's great heroes.. Here's the message in full:
A real hero - God bless him.

Shifty died June 17th, 2009..........rest in peace.

"Shifty" By Chuck Yeager*
Shifty Powers volunteered for the Airborne in WWII and served with Easy Company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, part of the 101st Airborne Infantry. If you've seen Band of Brothers on TV, you know Shifty. His character appears in all 10 episodes, and Shifty himself is interviewed in several of them.

I met Shifty in the Philadelphia airport several years ago. I didn't know who he was at the time. I just saw an elderly gentleman having trouble reading his ticket. I offered to help, assured him that he was at the right gate, and noticed the "Screaming Eagle," the symbol of The 101st Airborne, on his hat.

Making conversation, I asked him if he'd been in the 101st Airborne. Or if his son was serving. He said quietly that he had been in the 101st. I thanked him for his service, then asked him when he served, and how many jumps he made. Quietly and humbly, he said "Well, I guess I signed up in 1941 or so, and was in until sometime in 1945..." at which point my heart skipped.

At that point, again, very humbly, he said, "I made the 5 training Jumps at Toccoa, and then jumped into Normandy.. Do you know where Normandy is?"
At this point my heart stopped. I told him "Yes, I know exactly where Normandy is, and I know what D-Day was."
At that point he said, "I also made a second jump into Holland, into Arnhem.."

I was standing with a genuine war hero.. And then I realized that it was June, just after the anniversary of D-Day. I asked Shifty if he was on his way back from France, and he said "Yes... And it's real sad because, these days, so few of the guys are left, and those that are, lots of them can't make the trip." My heart was in my throat and I didn't know what to say.

I helped Shifty get onto the plane and then realized he was back in Coach while I was in First Class. I sent the flight attendant back to get him and said that I wanted to switch seats. When Shifty came forward, I got up out of the seat and told him I wanted him to have it, that I'd take his in coach.

He said, "No, son, you enjoy that seat. Just knowing that there are still some who remember what we did and who still care is enough to make an old man very happy." His eyes were filling up as he said it. And mine are brimming up now as I write this.

Shifty died on 17th January 2009 after fighting cancer.

There was no parade. No big event in Staples Center. No wall to wall back to back 24/7 news coverage. No weeping fans on television. And that's not right!!

Let's give Shifty his own Memorial Service, online, in our own quiet way.

Please forward this email to everyone you know. Especially to the veterans.
Rest in peace, Shifty.

Chuck Yeager, Maj. Gen. [ret.]

P.S. I think that it is amazing how the "media" chooses our "heroes" these days... Michael Jackson & the like!

We owe no less to our REAL HEROES......

There's a very moving tribute to the men of Easy Company on YouTube..(Part 1 of 8) - it's not to be missed. Shifty makes his first appearance at 7:08..

* The story that Chuck Yeager wrote this tribute unfortunately appears to be an urban legend - nevertheless, the sentiment still holds true.

Monday, 6 June 2011

148. Sunday morning in Biarritz

5th June 2011. We went for a walk in Biarritz this sunny morning and decided to have lunch at Casa Juan Pedro, one of the outdoor cafés (the one in the centre below) that border the old harbour in the Vieux Port
We arrived there before midday as these places fill up very quickly on a good day and luckily we found a table next to the harbour wall. Looking down at the sea, we watched patrols of good-sized grey mullet quartering the inlet above looking for scraps of food. There was an occasional flash of silver as one rolled over to take a choice morsel.

Biarritz was full of people (it was a long weekend) - we're only a few weeks away now from the start of the main holiday months of July, August & September.

The warm weather brought out some bizarre people too. Two strange-looking blokes (with something of the Gilbert & George about them) appeared in black business suits with their heads inside what looked like goldfish bowls. They were wearing goggles, nose clips and breathed via an external tube.. the goldfish bowls were full of water and indeed they had fish swimming around inside. Straight into the Seriously Weird category. Are these what are known as performance artists? Who cares! 

6th June 2011. Spare a thought today for the thousands of young men who, 67 years ago, lost their lives during the D-Day invasion of France. Of the 175,000 Allied soldiers who fought that day, some 9,100 died. If the European Union does nothing else, it will ensure that the destructive pattern of wars and conflicts that plagued the continent for hundreds of years are, and will remain, a thing of the past. I think that's a price well worth paying. 

Lucky Dip Dept: The internet is the most amazing resource for leading you off on a wild goose chase.. this morning I found myself listening to the sound of the BRM V16 racing car whilst 'googling' for something completely different. Designed during the immediate post war years, it first raced in 1950 under the formula that allowed unsupercharged engines of 4.5 litres or, in the case of the BRM, supercharged engines of 1.5 litres (91 cu in). This beast produced a staggering 600hp at 12,000rpm.. petrolheads click here, herehere, here and here for a reminder of what was arguably the most spine-tingling sound ever heard on a post-war racetrack.. Probably best to wait until the Fun Police has gone to the shops before cranking the volume to max! (They just don't understand do they..)

8th June 2011. I've been plagued with a v clever virus on my PC since Monday.. I've managed to restore the basic functionality but 95% of the programs show as 'empty' and strange things are happening.. I'm getting there but it's been a long slow process. I was asleep this morning when I suddenly woke up at 1.30am with a fix for one of the problems so I nipped next door to the study and fired the thing up and managed to get somewhere with resolving the mess it's in. Back to bed at 4.15am. I can't understand the mentality of people who write these viruses. Make sure you have a good malware program running. Speaking of which, bookmark this site and be sure to read it. Full of good advice on how to keep your PC free from problems.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

147. Living in the Pays Basque

2nd June 2011. If you've made it this far, you must surely be aware by now that living in the Pays Basque is to be highly recommended. And if, for whatever reason, you can't live here, then you should at least try and visit it. If you're unable to visit it, then read about it, soak up all the nuances of everyday life in the Pays Basque. Where can I do that I hear you wail..? Right here..! All this is by way of saying that when you stumbled across this blog, you landed on your feet!

Yesterday morning we set off for Irun, just across the border in Spain, for a spot of shopping. Well, 50% of us went shopping while the other 50% (the part that writes this) went for a long walk around Irun with the dog instead. After the shopping bug had been temporarily sated, we headed back towards home on the N10.
The sheltered harbour of St-Jean-de-Luz as seen from Ciboure 
Recently I've been exchanging emails with a London-based couple who are in the throes of deciding whether or not to buy a property that needs restoring in Ciboure. This is the small community that lies along the southern edge of the bay of St-Jean-de-Luz. They've found a house up on the hill that rises up behind the riverfront. As we were passing by on the way home, I decided to take a look at it. I thought I knew approximately where it was but once we'd entered the rabbit warren of narrow lanes - some not much wider than the car - it wasn't long before my sense of direction let me down.
Fortunately, I'd remembered a key word in the address and I entered this in the GPS - bingo! It turned out that we were only a couple of minutes away - and suddenly there it was.. just as in the photos. In all the time we'd been visiting the Pays Basque, this was one part of the coastal settlements that we hadn't visited. From what I've been told, the house seems to have been neglected and hence there seems to be a daunting amount of work to be done. And "daunting" is not a word I want to hear in connection with house renovations.. as it's usually accompanied by this noise..
I liked the area very much - the steep hills, the smell of the sea, the tangled narrow streets, the views of the mighty La Rhune, the dazzling white-painted houses.. and all within a few minutes walk of St-Jean-de-Luz. My advice to the couple is to listen to the inner voice.. If it says this is for you, then go with it. If they ignore that voice, it will gnaw away at them for evermore.
2nd June 2011. We went to see "The Tree of Life" this evening which was showing in town in VO (= version originale). If you are intent on seeing it, don't read the reviews first - go and see it with an open mind - no preconceived ideas as to what it's all about.

I didn't offer a judgement on it when we came out - I thought I'd wait - I didn't want to colour Madame's opinion with mine. She said the exact word that I was thinking, "Pretentious..!" Some of it could have been clipped from a number of shampoo commercials.

I've just read the NY Times review and I start to wonder.. Quote: It is like Wordsworth's "Intimations of Immortality" transported into the world of "Leave it to Beaver", an inadequate and perhaps absurd formulation but one that I hope conveys the full measure of my astonishment and admiration.
The Daily Telegraph is less convinced. I still think pretentious. This review sums up how we felt about it.

This is a spectacular shot from the beach at Anglet looking south towards the Trois Couronnes..
4th June 2011. Hot sortie in an octuple/VIII sculler (take your pick!) this morning. Virtually no current on the river.. did 16km (Running total: 740km).

This next clip - Smetana's Ma Vlast - was one of my father's favourite pieces, and it featured in the soundtrack of "The Tree of Life":