Monday, 7 September 2015

224. Calm before the storm

18th October. Had lunch in the garden today.. and the way this year is shaping up so far it could well be for the last time - the temp was around 18°C. I also oiled and greased the plancha and put it away in the garage for winter.

I've not mentioned the Rugby World Cup (I think) lately.. With rugby, it's either famine or feast.. Once a year, in February-March, we get the Six Nations tournament - where the six participating countries are roughly of equal ability. To me, it's the highlight of the sporting year (from an armchair perspective) and I rate it higher than the Olympics.. However, come the Rugby World Cup and we get drowned in a deluge of matches - sometimes three in a day. Maybe it's me but I'm afraid I can't get too excited over England - Uruguay or New Zealand - Tonga or Canada - Romania..

Occasionally however, there's a titanic clash between 2 countries where I genuinely don't care either way who wins the match - yet it's totally enthralling. Such a game was played yesterday between South Africa and Wales. I've never been a fan of Welsh rugby (and not just because they booted us out of the RWC!☺) but yesterday I think they shaded the match and <through gritted teeth> were unlucky to lose. Perhaps the South Africans were slightly fitter as they seemed to take charge in the final minutes. But, well done Wales.. I don't begin to understand how the players can take - and dish out - those monster hits.. I can't leave the Welsh without mentioning Dan Biggar (above). He's a great player and seldom misses his penalties - but (you know what's coming don't you!) he's adopted the bizarrest and most laughable of pre-kick routines.. Give the image below a few seconds to load.. OK, it obviously works for him but I think they should put screens around him while he does it. It's verging on an OCD..

As for the New Zealand - France game last night, I switched off after about 30 minutes. We in the northern hemisphere thought we had caught up with the superior fitness levels and play of the southern hemisphere sides - but clearly New Zealand (and to a slightly lesser extent the other two big sides Australia and South Africa) has raised the bar. The way the All Blacks started off during the opening 30 minutes was unwatchable. They played with a ferocity, an intensity and their customary disregard for the opponent's well-being that is uncomfortable to watch. I'm sorry - I'm probably wrong - but that's how I see it.

Sad to see Ireland exit the stage.. beaten by an Argentinian side with a 43-20 scoreline that flattered the Pumas. There aren't too many sides in the world game that could afford to lose through injury the likes of Paul O'Connell, Jonathan Sexton and that great flanker Peter O'Mahony.

Who would have thought that at this stage (before the Australia-Scotland match has been played) that it's odds-on that there won't be a single northern hemisphere country in the semi-finals..? Out (in alphabetical order) are: England, France, Ireland, Italy and Wales. The semi-finalists are New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina and (at the risk of annoying anyone north of Hadrian's Wall) most likely Australia. I'd put money on the final being between New Zealand and Australia. Now you're going to ask me who I'd like to see win it compared to who I think will win it? You'll have to email me for the answer to that question. I wouldn't want to upset either of my readers in New Zealand and Australia..

The question that will be exercising the governing bodies of Rugby Union across Europe tomorrow morning must surely be "Where do we go from here..?" It's time for those hard decisions to be taken.. In my view, both the England manager and the captain must be questioned. I think Stuart Lancaster is an honourable man and he's done a great job of rebuilding the side but unfortunately his selections have come up short - both in the 6N and the RWC. "More of the same" isn't an option.. As Martin Johnson once observed, "There are no points for style.." Chris Robshaw may be many things but a leader of men he isn't. Yes, he may do lots of unseen work but I'm afraid I can't remember a single memorable passage of play in which he was involved. No, if I was the CEO of the English RFU, I'd be tempted to call Sir Clive Woodward in for a chat and make him an offer he couldn't refuse. Not just cash either - but back the guy up with everything he needs. No back-stabbing - no quibbling over his methods - give him the job and support him 100%. He's a winner. Remember this Test match against New Zealand in Wellington in 2003? At one point England were playing with 13 men - and still they won. Winning in NZ is one thing - winning there when down to 13 men is another. He'd instilled belief in the players. It also helped that he knew his best XV...

I took the dog for a long walk along the beach at Anglet this morning.. and, unusually, the sea was flat calm. Miniscule waves, like those seen at a lakeside, lapped on the shore. (had to remind myself that this was the Atlantic) Looking out to sea somewhere between ½ mile and a mile, someone appeared to be walking on water  - just like this image, except his paddle and his board were invisible. A couple of thousand years ago, this would have been enough to trigger a new religion at the very least!

While I was down there, a café sign caught my eye.. it read "Le Coconuts".. Perhaps it's me being picky on a Sunday morning - but shouldn't this be "Le Coconut" or "Les Coconuts"? On this same theme, there's a shop in St-Jean-de-Luz called "Sweater's".. known as the Greengrocers' apostophe in England.

Don't get me started on greengrocers' spelling (right).. I've actually seen these spellings in markets in England.. (in case you're wondering, OBO-jeans are aubergines and Monge-Two are mangetout..) OK, I promise I'll get out more..!  
6th October. I've mentioned Ramiro Arrue before here.. his work encapsulated the Pays Basque to such an extent that it remains the graphic reference to this day. He painted in a deliberately naïf style that showed the simple dignity of the Basques in their daily activities. While I believe his work shows occasional signs of being influenced by Cézanne and Lautrec, he had a unique and enduring style.

If you'd like to explore the unspoilt Basque country on foot, I'd suggest you head for the Baztan valley in Spain (purists would argue this is still the Basque country - and they'd be right!). I mentioned it in Post 207 (scroll down the link about halfway). If you think you'd like to have a walking holiday (guided or unguided) there - then why not contact Georgina Howard who runs Pyrenean Experience..? Her holidays sound like a lot of fun. Here's a reminder of the area:

3rd October. I've always liked these old travel posters (& art works) of the Côte Basque - so much so that I finally put together a short video of some of them. Some are influenced by Toulouse-Lautrec, while others tip their hat to the Cubists or to Art Deco.. Ramiro Arrue's work is in there too. All are interesting in their own way. (PS I know the music isn't Basque but to me it's a summer sound.. and it just seems right. Look here and here)
26th September. We were invited to an afternoon repas with the Goraki Choir in Ciboure today.. the night before they'd given a concert at the Saint-Jean-Baptiste church, St-Jean-de-Luz.

This is a mixed Basque choir and we know a few people who sing with them. The venue for the meal
was the parish hall, hidden in a narrow winding street in Ciboure.. The massively beamed hall was up on the first floor with stunning views across the river into the harbour of St-Jean-de-Luz - views that would have had estate agents salivating.. More photos of the concert here.

The organisation was impressive.. rows of tables had been set out - enough to cope with the 170+ guests who were expected. To go with a welcome glass of local cider, teams of helpers were circulating with all kinds of appetisers - delicious small sausages known as "loukankas", a variety of quiches, cold soups in small cups, a mix of potato salad and cod - again in a small cup - and other delights. After much to-ing and fro-ing and general shuffling about, we all eventually sat down - only to jump smartly to our feet as the room resounded with a Chant d'Honneur that was sung with an impressive vigour.. Each place setting came with its own Basque song sheet.

A number of planchas had been set up outside and a small team were hard at work cooking over well over 1,000 gambas (left). Clouds of blue smoke rose up from the planchas as the gambas sizzled. They were delicious.. and, as they had to be eaten with the fingers, each table had been well-stocked with finger wipes.. While all this was going on, a few musicians kept stoking the fires by singing some Basque favourites.. Corks were being popped like at an Irish wedding as we all settled to the task.
Meanwhile, the plancha team weren't slackening off - we could see them slaving outside over their planchas - loading them with enough ribs of beef (côtes de bœuf) to feed the assembled masses.. Teams of ladies came round with platters piled high with substantial slices of rare beef (right).. This was neither the time nor the place to be a vegetarian.. this was red beef - red in tooth and claw.. It had clearly been hung as it was as tender as you like. A long time since either of us had had meat as good as this. Nouvelle cuisine..? Fuhgeddaboutit..!

More outbursts of singing punctuated the chomping of beef.. as seconds were brought around. (in case you're wondering - yes, I did!)

The choir formed up and sang for us - Basque voices have a unique timbre to them that's very distinctive. Unfortunately for non-basque speakers, the language is completely impenetrable and gives no clue at all as to the meaning of the song. On the positive side, they have some great tunes that are instantly memorable.

Cheese and dessert followed and soon the coffee came out. We had to make an early exit as our poor pooch was at home alone. Luckily he likes his sleep these days.

A great day and one in which it was plain to see the pleasure and the pride that everyone present took in their culture.               

25th September. A new expression caught my ear the other day: bourré de pognon*.. When I first heard it, I thought it sounded rather like one of those flowery menu descriptions in a trendy restaurant.. like Ecrasée de pommes de terre - which is how mashed potatoes are currently described in über-trendy restaurants here (Ecrasée = crushed). 

"Yes, I'd like the bourré de pognon to start with, followed by .." etc etc.

* For anyone desperate to know the answer, it means "stuffed with money"..

We finished up at La Plancha, Bidart this afternoon. It's situated overlooking the beach at Ilbarritz (just to the south of Biarritz). Well worth a visit..

11th September. There was a piece on Télématin (France 2) this morning that featured the Musée de l'Annonciade at Saint-Tropez. Made a mental note to go there one day. Some wonderful paintings there.. Scroll down this link and see what you think..

I gave Madame one of those internet radios the other day.. Without wishing to sound as though I'm on commission, the performance is - no other word for it - simply staggering.. Not only does it have the capability to access over 10,000 internet radios - but it can also work as a FM radio, or DAB radio.. It can also receive podcasts.. and input from other devices.. Simplicity itself to use as well.  I found myself exploring Cuban radios - and stations around the Caribbean.. before returning to European stations. Needless to say, Madame is totally delighted with it. She says it's right up there with her Mac laptop. Praise indeed..!  

10th September. If you like jazz, try TSF Jazz..

It was a visit to a Thai restaurant in Biarritz the other day that made me think of this.. If you like Thai food - and you live in Seattle - then this is for you.. I was once fortunate that for a few years my work took me to Seattle on a regular basis. I was taken out one day for lunch at Saya Restaurant, a Japanese-Thai restaurant at 8455 S 212th St, Kent, WA 98031. Yes, it does look anonymous and you could be excused for driving on by, thinking it doesn't look special. Whatever you do, don't.

Gai Yang
Someone once said to me what I'm about to say to you - "Just trust me and order the Gai Yang.." (Thai BBQ chicken). It was by far the best BBQ'd chicken I've ever had - and it was astonishingly good value. It's chicken thighs marinated in yellow curry powder and coconut milk. What wouldn't I give for one now..! Menu here. When I used to go there in the mid-1990s, it was $7.00. Twenty years on it's still only $8.50.. How many marks out of 10? 17..! 

I remember once going there after an interval of at least a year.. The waitress took one look at me and said, "Gai Yang, right?" (How did she remember me? I'm not that windswept and interesting!) Over a period of a few years, I went through the menu there - tried every dish - I didn't have one I didn't enjoy - but their Gai Yang was by far the best. The service is also right up there! You'll thank me for this.

10th September. If you somehow managed to miss the final of the Mens' VIII from the world rowing championships at the beautiful lake of Aiguebelette in the Savoie last weekend, you're in luck - click here.. The race ended up as a "toe to toe" slugfest between Germany and Britain. Keep an eye on the stylish Kiwi crew.. A pity they ran out of gas in the last 500m. A future race-winning boat if ever I saw one.

9th September. Spare a thought for your poor correspondent - he's frantically trying to finish translating a number of speeches (fortunately from French => English) that have arrived late from various people so that they'll be ready in time for the weekend.. Desperate measures have been called for!   

7th September. I'll probably get howled down for being a complete philistine (again!) but I think this next piece would have received J S Bach's imprimatur.. It's his Brandenburg Concerto No 3 in G major played on a synthesiser.. (cries of "Hanging's too good for them!")
Compare it with the more traditional version:

What do you think? I'm not saying one is better than the other - I think the modern version can stand comparison with the original. 

Anyway, moving on, loins are being girded in anticipation of the forthcoming weekend's exertions.. Yes, it's the annual Comète commemorative weekend - where around 100 or so people from all parts of the world gather together at St-Jean-de-Luz to pay homage to those of the Comète Line who gave so much during WWII. On the Saturday and Sunday, we'll be tracing one of the wartime escape routes taken by the Comète guides and the evading airmen from Ciboure over the Pyrenees and into Spain. 

At times like this, I wish I'd spent at least a few days up in the hills this year but for one reason or another that didn't happen. However, I know I won't be the only one! Here's the forecast for Saturday and Sunday.. looks like it could be damp. Warm but damp..


Anonymous said...

The meal looked very tasty and so did the venue for the concert, all those balconies and niches. Is the catch in their skirts to show off lace petticoats even more a Basque thing?

Pipérade said...

We went to that church in St-J-d-L years ago for the annual service for "La mer" - for the sea and those who earn their living on it.. We had to climb up to the dizzying heights of the topmost gallery to find a seat.. I still remember the sensation of vertigo when standing up.. the rail was not much more than knee high.. There was a Basque choir there then - it may even have been the Goraki choir - but that was my introduction to the unique qualities of the Basque singing voice.. Unforgettable.
You're asking the wrong person about the 'catch in the ladies' skirts'.. It must be a Basque custom as they all seem do it.
There is a distinctive and unique culture here that sets the Pays Basque apart from elsewhere in France. It came across loud and clear last Saturday. We felt privileged to be part of it - even though we couldn't understand the songs. A great afternoon!

Anonymous said...

Yes the posters are to my taste and I'd really like a large floor to gable wall on which to display them in quantity. And a pair of mini binoculars at hand to view them.
I was looking at London Transport Museum's offerings yesterday, BR (in the old days) were just as spectacular.

Pipérade said...

Yes, there's something evocative about old travel posters - particularly the ones for transatlantic travel by liner - like these:
I used to think getting there was part of the fun.. For many trips now it's something to be endured.

Anonymous said...

I am not fond of old - or new cinema - posters. The travel ones I suppose you could 'print your own' copywrite permitting.

Pipérade said...

So when are you moving to find a place with tha gable wall?! ☺
These days travel posters seem to have gone out of fashion.

Anonymous said...

As you know, I'm not a fan of Rugby and the TV has been hot with Chelsea, Man. City, ManU, Tottenham and, the only team I can be bothered to watch with any interest, Arsenal. Plus at ungodly hours the cricket. Our rugby mad friend has returned to live in OZ. and mores the pity taken his english wife with him. I know my place. In the kitchen with the laptop!
Off next week to St Antonin Noble Val, we may be lucky and it will be dry but I don't think it will be eating outside time. Ted is looking forward to walks along the river. Lesley

Pipérade said...

As a lifelong Red, I'll be watching developments at Anfield with great interest and hope, now that there's an inspirational & passionate manager in the hot seat - rather than someone who's just done the course. Let's see if he can do the sow's ear => silk purse trick.
Now put that laptop to one side and get back to blacking the kitchen range! ☺
Your St Antonin Noble Val sounds like it's in the deep end of la France profonde.. Have fun!