Sunday, 25 October 2015

225. The clock's ticking..

3rd January. By one of those uneasy coincidences, I've just heard that Michel Delpech, the singer in the video below, has died.. (26 January 1946 – 2 January 2016). RIP †.

28th December. I can't think why I've not posted this video before.. it's the ride by le Petit Train up to the summit of La Rhune -  the emblematic mountain that presides benignly over the Côte Basque. To many here it's the symbol of the Pays Basque. Make yourself a coffee before starting the trip! The ticket collector has a real local accent!

25th December. If you've ever driven south in France in summer and switched the radio on to alleviate the boredom of the autoroutes, it's a racing certainty that you'll have heard this "summer song" that burst upon the airwaves in 1971.. and has been a perennial favourite on French radio stations (like RFM) ever since. Once heard, never forgotten..(you've been warned!) 

And for those of you who can just remember that slightly risqué* release "Je t'aime... moi non plus" by Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin waay back in 1969, this next video may amuse you.. It's Frankie Howerd and June Whitfield with their tongue-in-cheek version..
* it was thought to be slightly shocking at the time.. According to Wiki, it was banned from radio in Spain, Sweden, Brazil, the UK, Italy, Poland, Portugal and before 11 pm in France.

By the way, Happy Christmas to all of you out there! Don't let me disturb your post-lunch snore-fest.. 

23rd December. Stuck in Paris and in need of a quick Pays Basque fix?? Look no further..

I've mentioned before in these pages the fact that there is a distinct and separate Basque culture here. France it's not.. it's the Pays Basque. You won't have to spend too much time down here or have to travel far within its bounds before you'll hear this song.. sung beautifully here by Anne Etchegoyen and the Basque male voice choir Aizkoa. You can listen to more Basque songs by them here - you'll hear these and many other songs sung with vigour whenever Basques gather together - I particularly like their version of Oi Gu Hemen (the third in the above link). You can also listen to the street version here as it's sung during the Fêtes de Bayonne.
19th December. Don't know what to make of our current warm spell.. it was 24° (75°F) in Biarritz this afternoon.. We had a coffee sitting outside - watching all the shorts and t shirts strolling by.. Hard to believe that I'll be mano-à-mano with a live Christmas pudding in just a few days.. I'll manage though!☺

17th December. I was down in the cellar earlier looking at the wine situation with Christmas in mind. Just as forestry workers paint, chalk or spray a ring around trees that are destined for the chop, I was mentally eyeing up what we had, what we needed and which of the remaining good bottles were destined for the table.. Some kind soul had given us a bottle of 2008 Pomerol Chateau Monregard la Croix and I mentally sprayed a ring around it..  Looking forward to that one!

We also had a very welcome Red Cross* parcel arrive the other day - it contained a Christmas pudding and mince pies.. The taste of Christmas.. *Thanks Jon & Miki!

As it was 22°C (71°F) yesterday (yes, you heard - twenty two degrees..!) here's a glimpse of summertime in Biarritz in 1968.. Just looked at the forecast for the next few days and it's going to be 20+° until Saturday..

The things you learn on the internet.. I was just looking at the list of Christmas carols I linked to in the paragraph below and it appears that "Gabriel's Message" or "The angel Gabriel" is a Basque Christmas folk carol (in Basque: Birjina gaztetto bat zegoen). You can either drop this snippet into conversation the next time it goes quiet in the snug or, better still, save it for that late night game of "Pro-Celebrity No Rules" Scrabble!

We were out in the car this afternoon and we were watching the temperature read-out climbing forever upwards until it peaked at 23½°C.. I have to convert this into Ye Olde half-timbered wattle and daub Fahrenheit to get the full impact.. 74°F. There were people out and about in shorts and t-shirts.. I can't believe that this time next week we'll be sitting down to our Christmas meal and opening presents.. 

13th December. I was writing a few Christmas cards yesterday - and listening to Christmas carols at the same time on Madame's little internet radio (it works a treat - highly recommended) but despite that it was hard to get into the Christmas spirit when it was 17°C outside with blue skies. Complaineth I not though.. I remember going to buy a Christmas tree one year when we lived in England - it was a bitterly cold and raw Sunday afternoon and already turning dark.. Buying one here is a completely different experience!

8th December. Forgot to mention that I went down to the rowing club late on Saturday morning in time to meet all the boats as they returned. A problem with the joints at the base of my thumbs has kept me away for about three months. Not quite sure what the problem is but if it's no better in the New Year I'm going to try going out in a boat to see if there are any ill-effects. It was good to see everyone again - they're almost a second family to me. One of the small speedboats that the coaches use came back towing a empty pair oar. Apparently the two girls who'd been in it had contrived to turn it over. There's been a lot of wood in the river lately and I suspect they'd had a collision with a tree and there's usually only one winner when that happens. (ask me how I know!)

We won't be using our "Made in China" synthetic Christmas tree* this year.. We asked the tree man to lop the top 6-7 feet off from the tree he cut down and we've now got that waiting in the wings ready to be moved into the house.
* Add this to your ever-growing list of "Is there nothing they can't make" things.

The choir I sing with is busy rehearsing this piece by Mozart, ready for a concert sometime in the New Year. It's his "Coronation Mass" in C major K 317. I think it would be fair to say that we have quite some way to go before we're anywhere near the standard set by Laurence Equilbey and the Accentus Chamber Choir..!

7th December. Ker-ching! That's it.. Christmas shopping finished!☺

We've had a spell of bright sunny weather lately.. yesterday the temperature was up around 18°C (65°F) and so we took advantage of it by a morning trip to Biarritz. The sea was a sight to behold - it looked like someone had opened the doors of the wave factory! As each towering roller neared the beach, its crest was lifted off by the wind in silvery parabolas before it exploded in a melee of white foam. No surfers in evidence!

We parked ourselves at the Café Dodin on the Grande Plage to watch the spectacle.. One brave soul stripped off on the beach and walked down to the water's edge watched by all.. he didn't dally long before he was in. I think many envied him.. I know I did!

Today it's more of the same.. wall-to-wall blue skies. Problem for me is that it's difficult to associate the onset of Christmas with the weather.. I'm not complaining though!

A few days ago we had a tree feller to the house to take down a Christmas tree that someone had planted in the back garden before we arrived. It had grown to a good 50 feet high and it showed no signs of stopping.. We'd had one tree blown over a year or two ago in a storm and we didn't want to risk this one suffering the same fate - so down it had to come. The tree man wrapped himself up in something like a parachute harness and strapped on what looked like a pair of crampons and with his chain saw attached to his belt - plus other tools of his trade, he started shinning up the tree. Branches started tumbling down and every now and again there'd be an almighty dumph as a large section of trunk landed. He soon had all the major parts of the tree sawn up and I stacked those at the side of the house to dry out for a couple of years. He dragged all the branches outside where he had an industrial sized shredder that made short work of reducing everything into a mulch. He then returned to the garden with a leaf blower and blew off all the sawdust into the back border - job done! He'd started at 2pm and by 4pm he'd finished. I'd had thoughts of doing it all myself but without the tools I'd still be out there sawing everything up by hand with my bow saw..
22nd November. Two days ago it was 21° (70°F in real money) so we had lunch out in the garden. Yesterday, it was wild, windy and wet.. Today, we thought we'd nip across into Spain to do some shopping and as we approached the mountains, we could see that the summits of some (not too) distant peaks were covered in snow.. Explain me this.. (as they say here..)

I've been off rowing for a couple of months as I think I have tendonitis (possibly de Quervain's syndrome) around the base of both my thumbs. And before the suggestions come flooding in, I don't have a Blackberry or a mobile..! So I'm excused vacuuming.. (into each life a little rain must fall..!)
15th November.
Bleu Café, Grande Plage
9th November. According to the TV news last night, it was an unseasonal 27° in Biarritz and 28° at Saint-Jean-de-Luz yesterday.

8th November. We're enjoying an Indian summer here - yesterday we went to Saint-Jean-de-Luz and, as usual, pinched ourselves with our good fortune at being able to live here in this corner of France. The beach was crowded with late season sun-worshippers.. and there were quite a few in the water. The car indicated 25° - but it felt warmer than that in the sunshine. 

This morning we were in Biarritz (or Bayonne-Plage as wags in Bayonne refer to it!), once more enjoying the dazzling light, clear blue skies and 25°C (again!).. We stopped at the Bleu Café on the Grande Plage for a coffee. There must have been 100+ surfers out there - trying to catch the rollers as they marched in as if from a production line. 

There were more visitors in town than is usual.. I suspect many had combined a couple of holidays using a "bridge".. On the way to pick up a baguette from our favourite bakers we saw a bright red American 60s convertible (might have been an Impala?) coming towards us.. It looked to be the size of a cruise ship lifeboat. I can't think of a more unsuitable car for bumbling around the narrow winding streets of Biarritz. Parking (or mooring) a monster like this must be a nightmare.

I forgot to add that "The clock's ticking.." refers to the imminent arrival of Christmas.. We've been thinking about doing something then and so we've been looking around at places to go.. I'm not sure I want to be out on the roads then and also I'm not sure that I want to be in a commercial environment at that time of the year. We went out for New Year's Eve during our first year here and I don't want to repeat the experience. If we go anywhere it will be to here - our "ace in the hole" - Chez Pantxua (left and below) at Socoa.. We found this great family-run seafood restaurant 20+ years ago and in all that time the quality has never varied. For the freshest of seafood, cooked to perfection, in a friendly ambiance - there's nowhere better.

25th October. Here's a short video I made showing (part of) what happens during the Fêtes de Bayonne..