Friday, 16 December 2011

172. St Jean de Luz out of season

16th December 2011. Yesterday Madame thought it would be a good idea if I took a break from my PC and so we drove down to St Jean de Luz in the afternoon. The car was registering a warm 17C (63F) and unlike in summer, parking at St J was a doddle. The Christmas tourists from Paris, Bordeaux or Toulouse have still to arrive so we had the town more or less to ourselves. We found the prime spot to leave the car on the sea front (normally unobtainium) and stepped up to the sea wall to look at the bay. What we saw stopped us dead in our tracks. Normalement, the bay is calmness itself and it's probably one of the safest places to bathe on the Côte Basque - but it was high tide and a raging surf was running right beneath us with rollers surging into the bay and breaking over the usually benign beaches.

Further north, there'd been a deep low pressure circulation out the Atlantic for some days and the onshore winds have been whipping up the Golfe de Gascogne (better known to us Anglos as the Bay of Biscay) with the result as described. Despite the fury of the sea, there were around 15 or so surfers out there braving the elements. Looking out beyond the breakwaters, towering grey rollers were rearing up high before breaking in a foamy turmoil - difficult to estimate how high they were but I would have said a minimum of 5 metres.. Quite a few other people were standing on the promenade - like us - transfixed by the spectacle. The normally flat horizon was jagged with these angry waves that were forming far out to sea. The breakwaters themselves were disappearing every few seconds in explosive welters of dazzling white foam. As we walked along the sea front I found myself stopping every few steps to have another look. The size and power of some of the waves out at sea beggared belief.. I'd like to have taken the car out on the Corniche (coast road) between St Jean de Luz and Hendaye to see if that celebrated wave at Belharra was running.  We took one last look before reluctantly stepping down a side street and heading down to the Place Louis XIV for a coffee. 
On days like this, St Jean de Luz was a real pleasure to be footloose & fancy free in.. There were only locals and the narrow streets were blessedly free of stop/start crowds. We selected a table at the Bar de la Marine which is, as the link says, ideally situated in the heart of the town centre for people watching. It's also right next to the inner harbour. Sitting there in the warm sunshine it was hard to believe that Christmas was only 10 days away and still not a bunga bunga party in my diary! (I jest of course!)    

While we're on the maritime theme, here's an old one from Christopher Cross: 
Haven't played Django for a while but this morning I caught this on TSF Jazz (have a listen here) - & thought you might like it. Here's the man with Hubert Rostaing on clarinet:

Right - back to work!

Later.. I've just been closing all our heavy wooden shutters at the rear of the house (that faces due west) as the forecast is for some strong winds during the night. At times like this I'm glad we had the place double-glazed. If we hadn't have had it done, it would have been one cold & draughty night here. As it is, by the time any stray gusts have found their way past the shutters (that are almost an inch thick), and past the double glazing, whatever force the wind had has been completely spent.

I don't usually comment on politics here but you would have had to have been living on another planet not to have heard about the latest spat between France and Britain.. Here's Matt's view of it all..!  

20th December 2011. If you know Bayonne, here's a short video of the town in 1900.. and it's completely recognisable from those far-off days. As you might expect, the pavement cafés spilling over into the road have gone but for the rest - well, see for yourself:
I spotted a Vacherin Mont d'Or lurking in the fridge yesterday.. ready for Christmas. Forget farmhouse cheddar, Stilton, American cheese or what have you - this is the king of cheeses. Made both in Switzerland and in France, there's everything you need to know about Vacherin (and many other cheeses) here. Here's a short video that shows how the Swiss do things:
I think I'm going to be pulling the plug here for a few days while we ingest an excessive amount of calories.. so to all of you out there in Blogistan, your correspondent wishes you a very Happy Christmas and good health in the New Year.. It's been an extremely busy few months for me with work and it looks as though the New Year will be more of the same. I'm enjoying it very much but when the warm weather returns I might be saying that through gritted teeth! So, away with you, go and wrap the dog or take your presents for a walk.. while I warm my feet by the fire we don't have.. 
Spare a thought for those who aren't as fortunate.. I'm looking for somewhere (like a childrens hospital or similar) in Bayonne to take a box of toys.. 
"Piperade Towers" is in fairly close proximity to the Law Courts in Bayonne and the road outside the house is heavily used for parking by members of the legal profession. We (the royal we) parked on the pavement outside our house a couple of months ago and picked up a 35€ parking ticket. Curiously, when the court is in session the pavements are full of Mercs, BMWs, Audis etc parked with two wheels up on the narrow pavement - the parking gods must be smiling on them as they never seem to attract the attention of the local police. Wonder if it's got anything to do with this sticker which they all display prominently on their windscreens? Surely not..! (Thinks: how can I print one off..?)

23rd December 2011. I heard a day or two ago that Cape Verde's finest export (perhaps its only one) - Cesario Evora - had died.. I featured one of her songs a year or two ago after we'd been given one of her CDs. 
This next one is probably her best known song:
Finally, let's end on a happy note:

Friday, 2 December 2011

171. Now is the winter of our content..

2nd December 2011. After the quick trip down to Salon de Provence earlier this week I've been spending the last day or two catching up with all the trivia. However, there's one event that can't be ignored and it's one that's coming up fast over the horizon. I'm referring of course to Christmas.. I was looking at this French 'ard deescoont' site for Madame's favourite eau de toilette but they don't appear to stock it so a visit to the perfumed halls of Galeries Lafayette in Bayonne is called for. I must also pay a call to the chocolatiers in town for some of that dark, dark chocolate that she loves. If you want to spoil your sweetheart (and why wouldn't you?) take a look at some of the chocolatiers in the Pays Basque who have a web presence: here, here or here.

Here's a clip from our local beach at Anglet (just 5 mins north of Biarritz) - the perfect place for a post-lunch bumble!
Yesterday afternoon we went down to the beach at Anglet and according to the car it was an unseasonable 20½C (or 69 in Ye Olde half-timbered Fahrenheit) - on 1st December already!  No complaints from me though. There was a thunderous surf running, huge rollers were rearing up and crashing with depth charge-like explosions of whiter-than-white foam against the end of the jetty, the air was heavy with salt spray and the dog's ears were flapping horizontal in the wind!
I've just found the following clip which was filmed at Anglet during some heavy seas last February. Scroll forward to start at 0:50.. At the mouth of the Adour there are a couple of breakwaters that we often walk out on to watch the sea. On days like the one in the clip below however, the council puts barriers out to persuade all but the eejits to remain onshore. You can see why at 4:06..! The sea front is dotted with German blockhouses that look as though they might just last for 1,000 years (as promised!). 
Lawn Update.. (you've been waiting for this haven't you!) We've been re-seeding the moth-eaten sections of the optimistically named lawn with grass seed that claims to be 'Rustique Sud'. This is a grass that has a broader leaf and the Sud part of the name implies that it should be successful in these 'ere parts. Meanwhile the local bird population must be thinking that it's an early Christmas for them too! I think we have a couple of pigeons nesting in one of the trees and their idea of a good day out is to peck great holes in the lawn. Little treasures! This morning I set a net up over the grass in an attempt to give it a fighting chance of survival. We'll see. 

The Christmas Village in town opened yesterday.. I haven't been down to see it yet but here's a look at last year's: 
Meanwhile, these lines by A E Houseman have been running through my head:

Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.

3rd December 2011. A brisk outing on a cold river in an VIII sculler this morning - we finished up being pursued by another VIII, set up for rowing (as opposed to sculling). If you're unsure of the difference have a squint at this. We did 17km - with the last 2-3km being quite lively! Then into the clubhouse for an apéro as it's the first Saturday in the month.

I went into Spain this afternoon to stock up with a few essentials (think Scotland - that's all I'm saying!). In the steeply sloping fields of the border area I saw a few new-born lambs of the season tottering about in their mother's wake.. looking as if they were made of pipe cleaners. They don't normally make their appearance so early do they?   

4th December 2011. Just been out to the baker mentioned here for a baguette tradition - these are the best baguettes in Bayonne by a long way. I've been to this baker perhaps 3-4 times before and I've always asked for a baguette tradition bien cuite (ie, well baked) each time. Three or four times is not very often so today when I asked for a baguette tradition (forgetting the bien cuite)the lady turned around to select one and she added, "Bien cuite!" I congratulated her on her memory and she laughed.. I don't suppose she numbers too many Brits among her customers. (so much for my accent!!)

That's one of the aspects of living in a town this size that I enjoy - you do get to make contact with people. I was at the garden centre this afternoon buying a new lead for the pooch - in that endearing way of his he'd chewed his way through the last one and it parted this morning in the centre of Bayonne while I was en route to buy bread. Anyway, back at the garden centre I bumped into one of the girls from the rowing club - she greatly resembles Charlotte Rampling - and she planted a couple of bisous on my cheeks - this is one 'furrin' tradition that should be encouraged in England!

Spotted this picture (right) in a BBC TV report about the recent demonstrations in London against the government cutbacks. Somehow I don't think the Brits have quite yet grasped the noble art of demonstrating. This sign won't be giving David Cameron many sleepless nights!☺ It's completely in line though with an observation someone once made that if ever there was a revolution in England and the howling mob was told to 'take' a railway station, they'd all buy platform tickets. Revolutions don't work in mild climates. We've been brought up to be polite, not make a fuss, show consideration for others, say 'sorry' if someone bumps into us and so we don't really do rampaging.. It's not our style. I'm not trying to claim some form of moral superiority here but that's how it is.

While we're thinking about surf, have a look at these truly disturbing images of very large waves that are found just a little bit further south down the coast. It's the giant wave that breaks on the Belharra Reef, just to the south of St Jean de Luz.. Any takers?

6th December 2011. There are odd things I notice here that sometimes I wish I carried a dictaphone for.. I've got the memory of a goldfish these days. As it is, I was reminded by something on the radio just a few minutes ago of a cliché that's used here a lot in the media if they're discussing something British. Whatever it is they are discussing, if it's British it's always labelled "So British".. whatever that means. And another thing - it's become fashionable now for people in the media to use the word 'Yes' as a kind of exclamation mark.. One last one - I saw an advert in one of those free "What's On in the Côte Basque" magazines for a bar that promises drinks, ambiance and 'fooding'. Again, so British!  

With Christmas coming up, here's a little reminder of you-know-what:
11th December 2011. On Thursday I was at the rhumatologues for some injections in my knees. About 2 years ago, he gave me a series of 3 injections over 2 weeks in my knees of a silicon-like compound. On Thursday, I was there for an all-in-one shot via a needle about the size of a bicycle pump (only a slight exaggeration..). He preceded it with (look away now!) an anaesthetic shot into each knee, followed by the 'Big One'. Afterwards, I walked to the car feeling quite sprightly but later on I was hobbling around as the effects of the anaesthesia wore off. Sunday sees me still moving awkwardly but hopefully things will have settled down in a day or two.

Strange but nonetheless very welcome weather this year - yesterday afternoon it was a balmy 19C (66F).. It's difficult to imagine Christmas being a matter of only two weeks away. I went out and bought a proper desk chair yesterday. With all the time I'm spending stuck in front of this screen with work, my old Victorian wooden chair was putting a permanent flat spot on my backside.. so this modern cushioned swivelling tiltable adjustable jobby was sorely needed.

13th December 2011. Here's a Paul McCartney song that I was unfamiliar with until I heard it on the radio the other day for the first time.. There's something very nostalgic about the first few lines that reminds me of those 'Rupert' books that I used to read as a kid at my aunty's house. She always kept a few early ones under a cushion and they were much sought after. They were beautifully illustrated in a slightly surreal style - the professor in his smoking jacket, hot air balloons, castles in the clouds etc set against an iridescent background. I see from the link above that the current price is £70..
The Dubliners have long been a favourite of mine - here's Barney MacKenna with his instrumental version of 'Boulevogue'.. 
14th December 2011. If you'd like to see what's happening in Bayonne right now - clicking on this will take you to a live web cam set up in front of the Town Hall - it shows a small part of the Christmas market. If you'd like to see it in HD full screen, then click on the small icon to the right of the slider at the foot of the webcam image.. (then Esc to leave) Clicking on this will take you to a Basque choir..

Meanwhile Biarritz, our more glitzy neighbours just 10 minutes down the road, is putting on a spectacular light show this year:
We'll definitely be taking a look..

In the interests of balance, I can't leave St Jean de Luz out so here's a short video I liberated from their Tourist Office site: