Thursday, 1 March 2012

177. Spring in the Pays Basque

29th February 2012. As it was a warm afternoon (somewhere around 16-17C) I wheeled my bike out for the first time this year, pumped up the tyres and, after putting a few drops of oil on the chain, set off through town to ride along the bank of the river Nive south as far as Ustaritz. With it still being school holidays, there were quite a few mums out there with small children on bikes wobbling every which way and, of course, the customary roller bladers, dog walkers, joggers and other cyclists.

I was determined to do the outward leg without stopping and, to be honest, I felt OK. Returning was a different story however. Even with a gel pad on the seat, I felt every bump, cobblestone, ridge and pothole on the way back. Was I ever glad to finally pull up at the house after around 24km or so.. (I know, it's hardly Tour de France territory) That shower felt good! 

At one point, the cycle lane goes under the main A63 autoroute that runs into Spain and you would never guess from the volume of freight traffic that we're supposed to be in an economic crisis. There seemed to be a constant stream of articulated lorries spaced every 50 yards either heading towards or coming out of Spain. 

Time for some Mark Knopfler:
1st March 2012. I had a very pleasant stroll around Biarritz this morning - there weren't too many people  about in the bright sunshine as I explored the maze of old streets with their dazzlingly white houses above the old port. I emerged near the newly re-opened Aquarium where I stopped to take in the stunning view of the inviting blue sea as it rolled into the bay, dominated by the stately presence of the Hotel du Palais. I couldn't help thinking how lucky we'd been to find ourselves exactly where we'd always dreamt of living.

Meeting up with Madame later on, the plan was to have a lunch of grilled sardines at Casa Pedro in the Port des Pêcheurs (right) but when we got down there, it was closed due to some re-surfacing work. We thought we'd try Bar Jean up by the market but it wasn't our day - all the tables outside were taken - so we found a table inside. They have a new menu and grilled sardines are now a wallet busting 12€ - they're usually 8-9€. I wonder if the market price is up with it being early in the season.

El Presidente was in town today and the usual suspects (Militant Parti Socialiste (PS) and Basque separatists) turned up in force to give him a warm welcome - that is, if you call jeering, pushing and shoving your Head of State a warm welcome. Displays like the scenes shown on national television are not normally seen in one of the major European nations - they're of the sort usually reserved for some fly-blown Third World state. (search on YouTube for Sarkozy Bayonne if you really wish to see the Opposition's  interpretation of democracy here.) In the interests of his safety he had to take refuge in a bar* for some time. I think the response from President Sarkozy was measured, balanced and statesmanlike.
* I think I've used this same line myself in the past! 

2nd March 2012. I came across this slideshow of French villages this morning. It struck me that one of the reasons that many of us are attracted to these ancient villages is because we look at them as if we're in a living Time Machine.. They show us how we used to live a simpler, more fulfilling life before the advent of rows of identical brick houses, sodium street lights, double yellow lines painted all over our roads and all the rest of it - before we lost our sense of community.

3rd March 2012. Beautiful morning for the river - it was dry, warm and sunny and so I rode down to the club on my bike only to find that I was press-ganged into an VIII this morning rigged for rowing (as opposed to sculling). It was what could best be called a 'mixed ability' crew and unfortunately we weren't ever able to control the balance properly, despite numerous exercises designed to reveal the culprit(s)! This made for an uncomfortable sortie. Despite that, we continued up river as far as the passerelle (footbridge) at Villefranque which turned it into an 18km outing.

This afternoon I walked into town and noticed a gathering in front of the Monument aux Morts. There were military units in their kepis and maroon berets, a large turn-out of proud old soldiers with their standards and a fair number of politicians including Marc Laffineur, the Minister for Anciens Combattants. He stepped up to the microphone and made an excellent speech which even mentioned the contribution made by the Réseau Comète. A lady next to me said it was much better than the events of the other day (referring to the demo against the President while he was in Bayonne). I had to agree with her.

4th March 2012. Really looking forward to the next instalment of the Six Nations rugby this afternoon.. it's France - Ireland. This game was cancelled at the last minute in Paris a couple of weeks ago as the pitch was bone hard in the freezing conditions. (oddly, the Stade de France doesn't have undersoil heating?)

Who do I want to win? Easy!! Most people have two teams - the one that they owe their allegiance to by virtue of their nationality - and then a favourite. My second team is, and always has been, Ireland with legendary Irish players back in the day like Mike Gibson, Willie John McBride and Fergus Slattery lighting up the stage wherever they played.

Ireland's opponents today - France - weren't convincing against Scotland and they're without the injured Maxime Médard, their great full-back. Clement Poitrenaud plays at 15 and his handling is suspect under the high ball so I would expect that Ireland will use the up-and-under to try and force an error or three out of him. I've always been a big fan of William Servat, the powerful French hooker known for his bullocking runs with the ball in hand, but curiously, he starts on the bench - perhaps to be brought on with 20 minutes to go. I expect Ireland to win this one!

7th March 2012. The Irish XV gave it their best on Sunday.. I was fairly confident that they'd be able to build on their 17-6 half time lead to seal the match - but France raised their game in the second half and it finished as a 17-17 draw. I usually find draws unsatisfying but in this case I think both sides could take some positives out of this great match. I thought Ireland's Tommy Bowe had an absolutely electric game.. he was so close to scoring a couple more interception tries like the one he did score. He made that one look so easy. There aren't many others around with his speed of thought and the ability to execute. A rare talent. Here he is scoring his second.. According to a few armchair pundits, he should have done this or that - but what a try!   

On Sunday afternoon we're off to our friends in Biarritz to watch the France-England match. This promises to be a fascinating confrontation. Under the guidance of Stuart Lancaster, England's interim coach, the "Quinze de la Rose" (as the French commentators persist in calling England) are playing with some verve, dash and lack of fear for once. I thought they took mighty Wales to the wire in their last game with Wales only scoring their winning try with 5 minutes left on the clock. And France, as they showed against Ireland, are capable of great things once they decide to play. Young Owen Farrell should have a big influence on the game but I also expect France's Thierry Dusautoir (aka the Dark Destroyer) will be more than keen to make sure he doesn't. Extremely difficult to predict a result but I have to hope for an English win. 

Changing the subject completely - I finally worked out this morning how to centralise the blog title at the top of the page.. This has been bugging me on and off for months. There was no easy solution - ie, click on this or that button - nope, I had to get into the HTML code and insert a new line of code.. all very nerve-wracking in case I managed to screw things up completely.

8th March 2012. I took the dog down through the Place des Basques this morning to a couple of parks that  face the river Adour. A few council workmen were busy tidying things up after the winter here and everything was looking spruce. All the bushes, shrubs and trees had been neatly manicured in the French fashion, lawn edgings were well-defined and tree roots were covered in yellow sand. The litter bins are emptied regularly here and it is rare to see people dropping litter away in the same prolifically casual manner as is now the norm in the UK. There are dispensers of free plastic bags just about everywhere for déjections canines but I'm afraid using them appears to be beyond some people. So the motto for today is keep your dancing shoes on when out and about!

10th March 2012. Very nice sortie this morning.. it was cold first thing ~3°C.. Went out in a mecs coxless IV en pointe.. (sweep rowing) Getting in the boat I somehow managed to dip a leg (up to my knee) in a very cold river - so I had a fairly soggy outing. Did 14km and overtook an VIII on the return so came home feeling pleased with ourselves! After that, we had a very welcome apéro..

This evening on France 4 it's the Under 20s France vs England rugby as a precursor to the main event tomorrow. The faux English accents were much in evidence this morning!

Watching the rugby this afternoon - Wales v Italy followed by Ireland v Scotland - all this talk of "Crouch" .... "Touch" .... "Pause" .... "Engage" put me in mind of that old joke about Australian male foreplay - the one where he nudges his sheila in the ribs and asks "You awake?"


Lesley said...

Lovely photos of the villages. I regret that time didn't allow me to see them all. I'll go back later for part 2,3,4,5... The villages may be of a more simple age, but without the modern tools they would be inaccessible.

Pipérade said...

That's very true. Fortunately many are so well preserved as to give us an insight into rural life as it was.

Lesley said...

Draw! It must be great to have a 'second' favourite team. We always would want England to win but the second choice is always Scotland to be beaten.

Once again the W/R is a smudged Basque word or two.

Pipérade said...

No - I can't join you there.. I like the way the Scots play their rugby - not as uninhibited as the Irish but with plenty of passion. The Welsh are my bogey team.. I never like to see them win!
You've lost me with the W/R comment?

Lesley said...

My favourite joke. (short version)
As the plane is about to crash a hysterical woman shouts for a man to treat her- for the last time - as a woman. Up jumps a large handsome Aussie and strips of his shirt saying 'Iron this and get me a beer!'

Pipérade said...

Like the Australian woman who was just nodding off when her husband climbed aboard.
She murmured sleepily, "Pull my nightie down when you've finished will ya?"