Wednesday, 20 November 2013

209. Rinse cycle in the Pays Basque

20th November 2013. It's been a wet month so far in the Pays Basque.. and the Nive has had more than its fair share of assorted lumber of all sizes floating down it during the past few weeks. Last Saturday I was out in the club's beautiful Filippi wooden shell VIII and we had to be pretty nimble in avoiding some of the larger pieces floating out there as it would have been all too easy to have irreparably damaged its fragile honey-coloured wooden skin. Higher up the river there was a whole tree lodged against the river bank that will present someone with a problem before too long (it's too big to pass under the bridges in town) as it slowly drifts its way downstream. I remember an outing in a coxless IV about 2 years ago (grisly details here) when we had an unscheduled coming together with a floating tree that launched us all - in slow motion - into a very cold river (in January!)..

It's difficult in words (for me) to capture the appeal of rowing on the river on a calm summer's evening. This image explains it waay better than I ever could: 

And for those of us who've often wondered what it must be like to soar like an eagle (and who can honestly say they haven't?☺), well, here's the answer. Someone has fitted an eagle with a lightweight camera.. The scene is the Mer de Glace outside Chamonix..
When I was there in the 60s, the glacier looked like this (below) - not the dirt track that it now appears to have become (above).
Mer de Glace
Something reminded me the other day of this haunting song by Enya (to be honest I was clearing the garage out of a few centuries-worth of muck and bullets and it came up on the radio).
I found myself humming it all day as I cleared the countless cobwebs that festooned the garage walls and swept up plaster dust, old rusty bolts and other delights. There was an assortment of ancient brackets and other ironmongery bolted to the walls - connected to the tale our neighbour told us that one previous owner of the house had been a butcher (who used the garage for slaughtering pigs). These fittings were attached with massively over-engineered fixings that hadn't been touched for years and which were mostly rusted up. Fortunately I have a set of sockets and a ratchet that made removing all the fittings easier than it might otherwise have been.

But - remembering the 1st Rule of Home DIY: if you have to remove 12 rusty nuts that have been untouched since the Spanish Civil War, 11 of them will unscrew more or less easily. That's all I'm sayin'.. (I did manage later to pop that vein back in my forehead!)

And 10 litres of white paint later, the garage walls are looking presentable again.. (the things you do when it's raining!☺)

Sunday, 24th November. I've mentioned the name of Andrée Dumon (aka "Nadine") several times here before - she was a guide for the Comète network during WWII. Here she is in Perth, Australia recounting parts of her extraordinary story.

When reading and listening to these accounts of wartime courage, I suspect I'm not alone in asking myself the unanswerable question: "What would I have done?". People like "Nadine" stepped forward and chose the path of greatest resistance.

Tuesday, 26th November. Cold day today - a bracing 2° this morning.. We went over to Spain to do some shopping and ended up staying for lunch. Found a place that was offering a 3 course lunch (that included magret de canard) including 2 glasses of the red infuriator each and coffee.. (If you must know - it came to a wallet-busting 27.60€ for two!☺)

Most of the trees still had their leaves.. What normally happens next is that a storm will blow through and all the leaves will disappear overnight.

I guarantee you'll be unable to watch this next clip without your mouth watering! I like it all - except for the presentation at the end.. the artfully arranged plate.. the few drops of sauce.. Down here in the south west, a magret de canard would never be served like this..

Is it me - or does anyone else uncomfortable with this modern practice of using fingers to arrange and prod into position the ingredients on a plate as it's "assembled" (as he calls it)..?? 

This next clip is a very familiar piece that the choir is rehearsing for a concert next year. Yes, it's familiar - but it's none the worse for that. We'll be singing it in the original German - and I must admit to finding it reassuring that some of the choir struggle with the pronunciation of a foreign language. So it's not just us then!

Amazon's tasting notes on Talisker 10 year old Single Malt whisky have this to say:

Tasting Notes:
Nose: Powerful peat-smoke with seawater saltiness, the liquor of fresh oysters and a citrus sweetness.
Palate: Rich dried-fruit sweetness with clouds of smoke and strong barley-malt flavours: warming and intense. At the back of the mouth.
Finish: Sweet malty flavours that blend into a smoky climax.

Sounds as though I'll have to close the shutters for this one! The 18 year old Talisker is apparently the one that wins all the awards.

Thursday 28th November. Went to Errenteria (just outside San Sebastian) yesterday morning for a committee meeting of the local Comète association with the Spanish representatives. Afterwards we were led around a few bars as it was too early for lunch (1pm!). Very reasonable.. for 4 glasses of  Rioja, I handed over a 10€ note and received a 5€ note back and a handful of shrapnel..! We had an excellent lunch – starting at 3pm – at Zuketza stylish bar/restaurant. I had marmitako to start with - almost a meal in itself. It's a rich and very satisfying tuna soup/stew.. For 3 courses, including 2 bottles of wine (I'd better add that there were 6 of us), coffee and a brandy, it worked out at just 17€ each..! Definitely somewhere to revisit.☺

I may be off-line for a while as another piece of translation work landed in my in-tray with an ominously heavy thud this afternoon.

The rowing club is having another "apéro" evening at TipiTapa (right) again in a few days time. If the present weather is anything to go by it will only be the hardened smokers among us who will be standing outside. We've had some really cold weather down here over the last few days with clear night-time skies and temperatures hovering just above 0°C. TipiTapa is a peña that has been set up in an old casemate in the fortifications and ramparts that encircle Bayonne (designed by Vauban in the 17th century) that were intended to keep the Brits (& others) at arm's length!  
A quiet night in at TipiTapa!
This was Bayonne in former times..

The eternal Maria Callas would have been 90 today. I'm ashamed to say it took me too long to appreciate her voice. Here she is singing two of perhaps her greatest recordings:   

Tuesday, 3rd December. After some bitingly cold days here (stop sniggering in Nebraska!☺) it was a pleasure to be out and about this afternoon in Saint-Jean-de-Luz (below) under a burning blue sky in the dazzlingly bright sunshine.. 
The bay was virtually flat calm, the distant Pyrenees were shrouded in a silvery haze and there was this 2 masted ketch swinging lazily at anchor (that set me thinking - always dangerous!)..  
The car indicated 16.5°C (62°F) on the way down to St-J-de-L but sitting over a coffee outside the Bar de la Marine (below) in the Place Louis XIV in the sun, I'm sure the temp was 20°+.. Is there a better place anywhere to enjoy a day like that..?

After my recent 3 week stint in the garage, I started making a list of the "10 Commandments for the Home DIY enthusiast":

1.There’s no such thing as a simple job.
2. If it isn’t broken, fix it until it is.☺
3. If the screw isn’t going in, use a bigger hammer.☺
4. The drill bit you want is the one that’s missing from the box.
5. Never be tempted to change the drill bit with the power on. (I'll tell you the story one day!)
6. Measure twice. Cut once. (Never the other way around!☺)
7. The best tool is a mug of coffee. Look at the job often - thinking time is never wasted.
8. One from Lesley: Things thrown away will be required within the week. (So true!)
9. If you are in desperate need of one item to finish a job, the shops will be closed.
Two more from Lesley:
10. A dropped Allen tool, nut, bolt or screw will always travel to the most inaccessible place.
11. As soon as you get your hands greasy you will develop an itchy nose or want to use the lavatory.
12. When the shop is finally open, the single item you want comes in a pack of six.
13. If it's your lucky day, and the shop sells the item you need in a single pack, they will have it in two sizes: too large and too small.
14. You've been saving something for 20 years knowing that one day you'll need it. When that day finally arrives, you can't remember where you left it. (happened to me yesterday!)

 Let me know yours and I'll include them!

It's been a while since we've heard from Gordon Lightfoot - so to put that right, here's a topical song from him:
Friday, 6th December. By now, most of you will have figured out how I work..

And finally: I'd not intended to add any more to this post but I've just read something that resonated with me - something that I hope you will nod your head to as well.

I'd been reading about Brad Pitt* who reportedly has just bought himself a Spitfire for ~US$3m..(as you do) and it turns out that you can learn to fly one at the only flying school in the world that will let you grip the control column of a Spitfire with your hot sticky hands.
* He's not the first Hollywood celeb to fly warbirds. 
A Singaporean pilot, Paul Jansen, describes his experience here and I was reading through his well-written account of his close encounter with a Spitfire when I came across the few words in question. 

He writes: "A few days ago, Nora Ephron, a brilliant screenwriter and director who first came to my attention with her romantic comedies "When Harry Met Sally" and "Sleepless In Seattle", died of leukemia aged 71."

In an interview with Reuters, she said: "At some point, your luck is going to run out... You are very aware with friends getting sick that it can end in a second."

"You should eat delicious things while you can still eat them, go to wonderful places while you still can... and not have evenings where you say to yourself, "What am I doing here? Why am I here? I am bored witless!"

Exactamundo! As someone once said, "Life is not a practice.. You don't go around again.."

I had a thorough medical examination a couple of months ago (a standard annual requirement at the rowing club). My heart was thumping away like a single cylinder marine diesel at 54bpm, my blood pressure at 120/80 was that of a 20 year old (a 20 year old what though!) and I was booked in for an effort test on an exercise bike. This came up a week or two ago - following which I was declared to be in excellent shape. But - as Nora Ephron rightly observed - all that can change in a second. So while I am eternally grateful for the present, one of these days my luck will run out. Until then though, I'm going to try and enjoy life. And where better to enjoy it than the Pays Basque. Tuesday afternoon's trip was a timely reminder of just how lucky we are.

Final, final word: If you're ever in the area, and you feel a pressing need to severely lighten your wallet one lunchtime, I can be made available for appointments here at very short notice!☺

(It's the Hotel du Palais, Biarritz..) If you'd like to slaver over more of the best restaurants in the Basque country, look no further than here..

11th December. News just in: “Yesterday, hundreds of dyslexic mourners laid flowers outside Nissan main dealers across the UK..”


Lesley said...

Our sous-sol was great for all the stuff that you didn't want upstairs and the car. But now after 8 years we have had to have a clear out. The concrete floor and bricque walls manufacture industrial quantities of dust and none of the walls are 'good' enough to paint. They all have plumbing and wiring exposed and generally the ceiling is too low to make any false ceiling to hide any of the lagged pipes etc. It will never look tidy.

Pipérade said...

Excuses, excuses!☺
Our cellar is next on the list.. I can't stand upright in it so a major clearing out is likely to leave me with a semi-permanent stoop. Vast quantities of "stuff" seems to have accumulated there as if by magic so the déchetterie had better brace itself!

Lesley said...

Things thrown away will be required within the week.

Pipérade said...

You've been watching!☺

Mandy Indonesia said...

Im glad to read you again. Thanks for this post.
Best for you Buddy! Happy New Year 2014

Pipérade said...

And to you too Mandy..☺

Lesley said...

Two more for the list that I read today.
A fallen tool, nut, bolt or screw will always travel to the most inaccessible place.
As soon as you get your hands greasy you will develop an itchy nose or want to use the lavatory.