Wednesday, 21 November 2012

198. Post card from the Pays Basque

21st November 2012. Another wodge of work has arrived in my intray - 27,000 words-worth of technical French-to-English translation - ouch! With a bit of luck I should finish it by Christmas. (this year!)

In the meantime, as winter approaches, I'm starting to get fixated on Stone's Original Green Ginger Wine which, so far, appears to be completely unobtainium down here in deepest south west France. It's an absolutely essential ingredient for one of our all-time favourite drinks. Mixed 50/50 with whisky it makes a Whisky Mac - the perfect winter's drink on a dark night. 

What kind of whisky I hear you ask? A quick google search reveals that some people advocate using a Single Malt.. <sharp intake of breath!> I'm afraid that here at Piperade Towers that would be classed as Class 1 heresy. Also some people are recommending ginger wine to whisky ratios of 5:1.. More heresy! The right way (ie, my way!☺) to mix a Whisky Mac is to pour a finger or two of your blended Scotch whisky of choice, along with an equal measure of Stone's Ginger Wine, into your favourite whisky glass. Note: no ice, repeat, no ice. And that's all there is to it. No slice of lemon, maraschino cherry, salt or sugar around the rim, & definitely no cracked/shaved ice or ice cubes. The only drink better than a Whisky Mac is a second one.☺ If anyone knows of a supplier of Stone's Ginger Wine in the Pays Basque, I'd love to hear from you. 

On one of our recent shopping trips to Spain I spotted a bottle of Drambuie. Substituting this for Ginger Wine and mixed with blended whisky in the same proportions as described above, it becomes a Rusty Nail.. One of these should be enough to convince you that you're enjoying life too much. Here's the 'official' recipe from the International Bartenders Association for a Rusty Nail that, to me, makes the mistake of over-cooling the drink to the point where most of the taste is lost. Here it is:
First fill a 16oz glass with crushed ice until it is overflowing. Pour in 5 parts Drambuie and 9 parts Scotch. Stir gently, as to not bruise the ice. Keep stirring until a thick frost develops on the side of the glass. Garnish with a lemon twist. Serve.
This must make for a teeth-crackingly cold drink. Why? Take my advice and junk the ice. It's up to you though. I'm still trying to figure out what "bruising the ice" means?

Right - pin back your ears - here's a programme about the Pays Basque that was broadcast a few weeks ago. If your French isn't up to following it, just tune him out and enjoy the images:
The programme lasts for 1½hours so pour yourself a Whisky Mac and relax! Again, best in full screen. Watch out for the giant Belharra wave at 0.31:10..

24th November 2012. Went down to the river this morning and had an outing in a mixed IV. We'd been going for about 3-4km and we'd stopped to take off our warm-up tops when someone in the boat drew our attention to a deer that was calmly swimming across the river (that was around 30m wide at this point) about 10m in front of us. It disappeared into a small tributary and about a minute later a once-golden cocker spaniel - now very muddy - appeared on the bank, clearly hot on the trail of the deer. Barking for all his worth - all teeth and trousers - he sniffed his way down to the waterline before deciding not to follow the deer across the river. I didn't know that deer could swim. 10 out of 10 to the deer!  

25th November 2012. I took Chibby, our 11 year old English cocker spaniel, down to the beach at Anglet this morning and I was stopped by a family who had a lively 6 year cocker spaniel bitch with them. They wanted to know if I'd be interested in the two of them breeding.

Why is it only the dog that gets these offers?!☺

I've mentioned previously that my father was a pianist - and so we all grew up in a house full of music. Every now and again I come across a piece that he used to play. This is one of those:
And this is another:
On ARTE (a Franco-German TV channel) at lunchtime today there was a well made documentary about the Bruichladdich distillery on the Isle of Islay (west coast of Scotland). The film captured the essence of life on a remote island and the whisky making process.. to the extent that we both felt like making an immediate visit there (well, I did at any rate!). Sit back and enjoy the programme with its wonderful images of Scotland:  
Here's a look at breathtakingly beautiful Islay as seen through the lens of a French film crew..
28th November 2012. It's been hosing down with rain here for the last couple of days and so the dog has been confined to the garden. Tonight, however, there was a break in the rain so I took him out for a proper walk and I noticed that the Christmas lights have been put up. (that means that Tesco in the UK will have Easter Eggs on display!)

1st December 2012. Last night it was the rowing club's bash at Tipi-Tapa, a bar in an old casemate (former cannon emplacement) set into the historic ramparts that surround Bayonne. As it was only a ten minute walk we decided to go on foot - taking a short cut through a large parking area where a circus has been running for the last few days. We picked our way in the dark around the Big Top and through a parking area for some of the circus vehicles. As we were walking past a long articulated trailer, I felt as if someone/something was looking at us in the gloom. Looking left, the trailer housed 4 large cages and I saw 4 pairs of black eyes watching us intently. There were 4 lions, each in its own cage.. only 4-5 yards away. There didn't seem to any evidence of security and I couldn't help but wonder how easy/difficult it would have been to have slipped the bolts on the cage doors.. 

This morning it was around -3°C but despite that I wended my way down to the clubhouse for a bracing sortie in the cold. The river was flowing swiftly seawards accompanied by what looked like steam that was rising off the surface. In the sea, this is known as sea smoke. The bridge down to the pontoon was sloping steeply on an outgoing tide and it was extremely slippy with ice. About ten stalwarts appeared but it soon became obvious that a sortie was not going to happen. 

For the past few weeks we've been entertained by the Autumn Internationals (Rugby!). Today, England were playing New Zealand - aka the All Blacks - the current World Champions. What a game..! I believe New Zealand were unbeaten in their last 20 Test matches - an astonishing record. This was the final game of the Autumn series and I imagine both teams were eager to end on a winning streak. For once, it all gelled for England and they ran out worthy 38-21 winners..

Here's this week's special offer - the whole of the England v New Zealand match with, for once, a totally unexpected - but very welcome -  win for the boys in white:

6th December 2012. I've been out of Greek coffee for some time now - the last consignment I bought tasted muddy and, while it filled a gap, it didn't have that special taste I enjoy. The other day I managed to find an online supplier in Marseille who stocked a brand I was unfamiliar with: Bravo. I ordered some and it's just arrived. I've made myself a cup and - slurp - now that is not bad at all. If I can't ever manage to find a stockist of my own favourite Greek-Cypriot coffee nirvana - Charalambous Golden Mocca (right) - well, then I guess Bravo will do v nicely.
7th December 2012. The last few days have seen heavy showers sweeping in from the Bay of Biscay - the shutters rattle a warning as the wind gusts and then the heavens open. Sometimes it's just a downpour, sometimes it's hail, occasionally there's thunder mixed up in it all. Tomorrow evening I'm off to watch the Bayonne - Wasps game. It's an evening kick-off - 9pm - fingers crossed the weather holds off.  

The Christmas market is now in full swing here.. lots of white painted chalets have suddenly appeared all over town. 

.. and where there's a Christmas market, you can guarantee that a flash mob won't be far behind!

8th December 2012. Down to the river this morning under threatening grey skies with the sky to the west looking particularly ominous. While we were all sorting ourselves out into crews, the rain started a steady downpour. A few minutes later it had stopped so we quickly put a IV out on the water and headed off upriver - each of us armed with a K-Way. Sure enough, it wasn't long before the rain started again so after a quick stop to don our waterproofs we carried on. It was very, very wet out there but I kept telling myself it's only water. It became just a question of ignoring it and getting on with the outing. Needless to say we were all glad to return to the pontoon and put the boat back on its rack. We were all wet through so an offer of a drink at a new wine bar - the stylish Au Bouchon Basque - across the road was a no-brainer! 
I'd not been in this place before and it was a new take on the old style zinc bar. I was really starting to feel the cold now so I ordered an armagnac. I've had a few armagnacs before and they can be quite fiery. This was the opposite - round on the tongue and with no sharp edges. I asked the chap behind the bar about it and he ended up by saying he'd let me have a bottle at cost price! He left shortly afterwards and as he went out he said no charge for the coffees that the other two had. It turned out that there was no charge for the armagnac either!! Definitely a place to return to! A review from the Sud Ouest here.☺        

Off to see the Bayonne-Wasps game tonight..! Let's hope the rain keeps off.

9th December 2012.  We went out for lunch in Ascain today and driving there was a real pleasure - it was cold outside but with a dazzlingly blue sky, bright sunshine and as we neared the mountains, most of the trees still had their leaves in all shades from green, yellow, russet and copper.. The whitewashed Basque houses reflected the sunlight and it was another of those moments when we couldn't imagine living anywhere else.
Arriving at Ascain at midday, we stopped first at the Hotel du Parc to book a table for 12.30 while we walked the pooch around the village we know so well. We settled for the menu saveur de l'automne - which started with an omelette aux cepes, followed by the salmis de palombes sauce grand veneur. This was eased on its way with the aid of a bottle of Irouléguy Gorri d'Ansa. After coffee, we bumbled the few kilometres into St Jean de Luz for a walk and a sit in the sunshine. Aah, la vie est belle!    
19th December 2012. Been slaving away (more than 12 hrs a day) at this latest piece of translation work and I finished the first pass through it over the weekend. What a relief that was! I'm now going through it a second time to pick up stray typos etc.. 

I walked into town at lunchtime yesterday to post one or two cards and on the way back it was so warm we could have had lunch outside.. think it was ~17°C. With this weather it's hard to believe Christmas is less than a week away! 

Greetings to all from a snow-free Bayonne in the Pays Basque - I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas with family and friends.
20th December 2012. We're holding an impromptu regatta down at the club on Saturday.. The calling notice for it only came out at the start of the week and I found myself signing up for it. It's open to clubs from Aquitaine and it's for IVs and VIIIs over a 1000m course. The club is putting out three VIIIs - two octuples (VIII scullers) and one VIII set up for rowing (ie, one oar instead of two sculls). I found my name down to row in the "serious" VIII. Hopefully, 1000 metres isn't long enough to inflict any lasting damage! I haven't rowed for months.. it's all been sculling. Should be interesting! Apparently the temp is going to be up around 20°C at the weekend..☺

Here we are heading up river to the start:
And here are a couple of shots taken during the races (I'm in the leading VIII somewhere!):
23rd December 2012. It's hard to believe but it's 24° here as we speak.. Phew!
24th December 2012. While I prepare to do serious battle with Madame's cooking over the next few days, you could do a lot worse than watching these stunningly beautiful  images of the lush countryside of the Pays Basque (from Michel Neuwels' brilliant photo-reportage blog Voyage au Pays Basque). Best enjoyed in the highest definition your PC will support and full screen:

The Chambre d'Hôte that's featured above from 00:49 to 01:26 is here.  

25th December 2012. The motto for today is:
Liberté, Egalité, Poulet!
Happy Christmas to all, wherever you are..!

30th December 2012. Biarritz has been staging its annual light show - Biarritz s'habille de lumières - over the Christmas period. Unfortunately we both picked a flu-type bug just prior to Christmas so we haven't been able to get out much. What do you think?

Well, that's all for 2012 folks.. see you next year!


SueC said...

thanks for a timely reminder - added the Stones to my shopping list - on the way to England for 2 weeks tomorrow

Pipérade said...

Have a good trip!

Lesley said...

I aways wondered if Benton/Fenton got reunited with his owners after deer chasing. Cockers have more brain about them but still can get lost when 'on a mission'. Chibby must be a good looking dog. We used to say our old blue roan was all bark and no trousers.

Pipérade said...

He knows not to stray too far away when he's off his lead - he has an occasional check over his shoulder. Trouble is that he's developing cataracts and so he sometimes loses sight of us if we're not moving and then his head comes up and he's into search mode (on the verge of panic). For all that though, he has a steady stream of admirers when we're out.☺

Lesley said...

All the best to you for Christmas and look forward to another interesting Basque/Bayonne/Aquitaine New Year.

Pipérade said...

Many thanks Lesley (but where's the 10 shilling postal order??☺)
Best wishes to you and your family too for a happy Christmas and a healthy New Year!

Lesley said...

The Postal Order was obtained for 50p but, even when I folded it very tightly, it wouldn't get in the USB socket.

Pipérade said...

A likely tale!☺

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