Sunday, 10 April 2016

230. The internet at the speed of heat

27th May. Here's an intriguing question that I found at the link below.. Are the English Basque? 

Oxford geneticist Stephen Oppenheimer has presented some rather startling results in his book The Origins of the British. Oppenheimer writes: To summarize, the phylogeographic approach establishes three broad aspects of West European and British colonization in the past 16,000 years which have a bearing on the Anglo-Saxon question.

First, all but a few per cent of male and female gene lines appear to have arrived in the British Isles before the historical period (i.e. before the Anglo-Saxons).

Second, most British colonizers, including about two-thirds of English ancestors, came from the Iberian refuge soon after deglaciation, or at least during the Mesolithic.

And third, the subsequent colonization of the British Isles during the Neolithic and the Bronze Age was complex in time and space, but mainly came from the other side of the North Sea. Oppenheimer estimates that the ‘Anglo-Saxons’ account for “only 5.5%” of the ancestors of modern English people.

That means that about 95 out of 100 English people are not Anglo-Saxon at all! What is more, the ancestors of fully two-thirds of English people came from the “Iberian” refuge – that is an area of southern France and northern Spain centred on the present-day Basque Country.

More here.

22nd May. For some reason, I started thinking about La Place des Vosges in Paris. It's one of our favourite places there and it's somewhere we never tire of visiting.

If you don't know it, it's well worth noting it down on your "to do" list for the next time you visit the City of Light. (this is the best video I could find of it.. I know it's not brilliant)

19th May. We did a quick trip to Spain this morning for some shopping. Unfortunately our visit to the ventas at Dancharia coincided with that of a few coach loads of mainly French pensioners.. quite a few of whom seemed to be confused by the whole thing. Aisles were blocked as old dears in charge of shopping trolleys managed to get them tangled up (where's a chain saw when you need one?!) - while others abandoned their shopping trolleys at random (in the manner of cars parked in Naples) while they had a senior moment wondering which 2 litre bottle of pastis, gallon of white port or 10 litre wine box they were going to go for.. (usual answer: all three!). When their shopping was complete, they'd emerge blinking in the sunlight and then the new game would start: pushing an overloaded trolley through the car park traffic without looking left or right! Frightening to consider that many of them were our age! Much to look forward to!☺

16th May. We've been working hard in the garden lately and I think it's now looking close to the finished product (if you can ever say that about a garden). Since we cut down a tree that pigeons used, we've had no further holes pecked in the lawn. At one stage it started to look like a practice putting green! It's taken us 8 years to get to where we are now.. Choosing the right grass seed was by trial and error and so far, there are no signs of dry patches on the lawn. At this time of the year, the growing conditions are just about perfect with warm temps and regular light showers. Later in the year, the sun's heat becomes more intense and rainfall, when it comes, can be, and often is, torrential!

15th May. Time for a Caption Competition.. Here's today's:
Post your entry via the "Comments" below this post.

12th May. I was just re-reading the opening chapter of Peter Mayle's Bon Appétit! when it struck me that his introduction to French cooking was rather similar to my own. Read the first chapter here and see if any of it resonates with youI found myself nodding at his views of French food as he described his first encounter with it in a Parisian restaurant at the age of 19, after growing up in the gastronomic wasteland that was England in the post-war years.

I'd never really enjoyed meat as a boy as it was generally cooked to death* at home - rendering it necessary to chew it interminably. I honestly think my father would have been happier if the kitchen cooker had been replaced by a blowlamp! Meat was never allowed to have any hint of pinkness, or heaven forbid - blood! (Eek!) In fairness, I suspect that my dear mother's cooking was no different to thousands of other mothers back then. I always thought - and I still think now - that she was a great cook though. She did the best she could with what was available at the time - which, if we're being honest, was not a lot. I thought the fact that I disliked meat was my problem. Peter Mayle's account reminded me of the first time I travelled abroad in the early sixties. It was to Switzerland and, like him, I had been forcibly vaccinated with French at school (but I don't think it 'took').

* It used to be said that meat in England was killed twice.. once in the abattoir and then murdered in the kitchen. 

As an 18 year old, I remember finding myself at a loose end in Geneva around lunchtime one day. As I strolled by lakeside restaurants, the magical smells that wafted out from them caused my previously unemployed taste buds to tingle. I stopped at a suitable restaurant with a terrace and ordered a steak-frites.. which was a curious choice, given my lifelong aversion (thus far) to meat. Thinking about it, I probably ordered it because I was fairly confident of being able to pronounce it! When it came, I cut into the steak and rosy juices gushed forth. At home, this would have been the signal for an emergency call to the nearest vet or, at the very least, returned to the kitchen pronto for further remedial blow-lamp treatment.. Instead, I bit into it and voila! An epiphany moment.. So it was that I could finally say so that's what meat tastes like!! Then there were the perfect frites.. 

There's a different attitude to food in the UK.. I remember a former colleague who often asked me on a Monday morning what Madame had made over the weekend. Once, when my reply showed too much enthusiasm for whatever it was we'd had, she said, "But Xxxxxx, it's only food..". I found that such a depressing attitude.

There's nowhere in the world (that I've been to) where the preparation and enjoyment of food is treated with the same love, passion and veneration as here in France. At the very highest level, French restaurants are temples to gastronomy and the pleasures of the table are a serious business. It is taken for granted that the diner has an understanding of what is expected of him and that he will behave accordingly.
Le Train Bleu at the Gare de Lyon, Paris, has long been on my list of places to visit.. One of these days! (Site here) (Menu here

Click on the image to get the full effect..

For more images of food in France, click on this link and scroll down.

A couple of days ago we met some English friends who were on a walking holiday in the Pyrenees. We'd arranged to see them at lunchtime at Bentas de Donamaria (below), a delightfully rustic restaurant in the beautiful Baztan valley in Spain.

The food was Michelin quality.. another place to remember!

7th May. The swallows are back.. darting and twittering around the roofs. This is normally my cue to drag the plancha* out of the garage up to the terrace where it will spend the next six months.
* Not sure what a plancha is? So much better than a charcoal or gas barbeque.. No more cries of "Scrape the black bits off, it's OK underneath..". Look here. Trying cooking the above meal on a barbeque.. Impossible! I can't understand why they haven't taken off in the UK.. If I was looking for a business opportunity, I'd look no further.

6th May. I think we've taken a giant leap into summer here from a standing start. Yesterday after lunch, I was up a ladder in the garden painting a wall white and the temperature was up in the high twenties.. It may even have been above 30°. Mad dogs and Englishmen etc.. I had to put my paintbrush down every so often and drink something cold. Fortunately, I found a couple of bottles of San Miguel  in the fridge in the garage.. Hard work this painting!

My shorts have also had their first airing this year.. after warning the neighbours in advance! Plus, we ate outside for the first time on our terrace. This is how it will be for the next six months.. 

We were in the Baztan valley (right) the other day. It's one of those places that miraculously seems to have avoided mass tourism - or indeed any form of tourism. It's just across the border into Spain (map here) and the scenery is magnificent.. with breathtaking vistas across broad valleys, soaring hillsides, distant peaks, white painted farmhouses dotting the landscape, vultures circling (yes, vultures) and all resplendent in new spring green. Don't take my word for it - look here:


The above photos are all of the Baztan valley. 

I'd been to Elizondo in the Baztan valley with some hill-walking friends a few days previously and I'd spotted an intriguing Art Deco wine cooler in an antigüedades shop.. It's very similar to the one shown here except it only cools one bottle at a time (I can live with that). In the example at left, ice is added via the central lid. In the summer heat on our terrace, a bottle of wine quickly loses its freshness so this new toy will be very welcome. It's difficult to be sure what the metal is (it isn't silver that's for sure) - I'm thinking from my brief examination of it that it may be nickel plate - or similar. In any event, it's the ideal gift for someone like yours truly who never has a clue what he wants for his birthday.. Madame and I went back there a day or two later to pick it up. Regrettably, I'm told that it has to stay hidden away in quarantine until the day itself.

1st May. We ventured deep into la France profonde today.. We'd been invited to lunch by some French friends who'd bought an mid-18th century farmhouse down a single track country lane near Cauneille (about an hour or so inland from here). They've been restoring it for two years and the results were impressive to say the least. They'd opened up the downstairs to form a wonderfully spacious living room, complete with the original open fireplace. There were some heavy beams but they'd painted those pale grey so they weren't as oppressive as they might otherwise have been. The lady of the house had been an interior designer and it showed.. There were many instances of her infallible eye for combining old objects with new. There were some beautiful old pieces of antique French country furniture that she'd brought from her family home. Sitting down at her dining table, it felt to me as if we were in a living tableau of a homage to country living in France.. A really memorable lunch and afternoon. 

12th April. I should also add that we can now receive a vast number of programmes on our TV - but there aren't enough hours in the day to step through them all. Previously, we'd had great difficulty in accessing Sky News and BBC World - the picture would pixillate as though under the influence of mind-bending drugs as the ADSL connection froze, momentarily unblocked & froze again to a chorus of electronic chirrups and squawks.. thus rendering it useless. Now that both are available in HD quality, I can see that we haven't missed much in the preceding 8-9 years! They're both still unwatchable - but for different reasons!

10th April. I had one of those "How did that happen" moments the other day.. when I realised with a jolt that next year, in September 2017, we'll have been here for ten years.. Yes, ten years..! Cue a stream of questions along the following lines: D'you miss England? What do you miss most? Ready to go back? etc etc.. The funny thing is I feel completely at home here and I'm not pining for England at all. In fact, whenever we're in the car driving north up the autoroute towards Bordeaux, I can guarantee that inside the first ½ hour, one of us will say: "Why are we leaving home? Let's go back..". Once we get past Dax, I feel that we're in the north.. This really is a blessèd corner of France. I don't feel the need to go on holiday either as everything I like is right here. We do have the odd short break away - true - but I don't feel deprived in any way by not having a major 2-3 week holiday away to some far away long haul destination.

4th April. We've just had our internet connection upgraded from copper wire to fibre optic and the difference in speed is staggering. We can now watch TV and films on my PC in real time without the picture jerking and freezing momentarily. This is more like it.. Prior to this, we'd only been achieving download speeds in the region of 2Mbps via our ADSL broadband connection - so the new figure (right) is more than a 100-fold improvement.


Anonymous said...

Out of interest, I just tested ours. 2.60Mbps and 0.40 Mbps. and this is better than it was. Is this the joy of being in, almost, the middle of nowhere?
As you know, I don't want to drive far away any more so our Hols are 3hrs away max, but I do find that when we get back home I wonder if we shall need to do it again. (Never got to eat the turbot)
We have always said that living here every day is like being on holiday. Lesley

Pipérade said...

My sentiments entirely.. Why go somewhere else only to find yourself wishing you were back home..? I'm afraid that wherever we've been - apart from our recent foray up to the far north west of Scotland - that thought didn't take long to implant itself in my noddle..
For me, Dax is the north. And on old maps the cartographer would draw a legend north of Dax that said: "Ere be dragons"

Anonymous said...

The Matt cartoon: One could change Clinton and Trump to Exit and Stay.

Pipérade said...

For me, the choice we'll have to vote on shortly whether to remain or to leave the EU is fairly cut and dried. Various people (no names) have introduced a number of red herrings into the debate (such as it is) in the hope that the electorate will be diverted by smoke and mirrors.
For me, the fundamental issue that's at stake is - who governs Britain in line with our democratic traditions that thousands have died to uphold? Who makes our laws? Who decides who is allowed into the UK? Who can we vote out of office if we want to?
These are all aspects of the core question. All the rest is detail and rhetoric. Ignore the headlines and sound bites designed to appeal to our fears.. & listen only to those who address the above questions.
To me, there's only one possible choice - Out. I love Europe - but I am totally against the undemocratic institution that the EU has morphed into.

Anonymous said...

You might want/need to wait until the £:€ exchange rate gets better before attempting Le Train Bleu.
Needs must, and it's just as well that I prefer the more rustic restos.
I suspect that The Dog would be welcome at Bentas de Donamaria.

Pipérade said...

That's why Le Train Bleu remains an aspiration! (and will continue to remain so for quite some time!☺)
Rustic restaurants are our "thing" too.. but once in your life (special occasion) I think you owe it to yourself to venture into at least one of these temples..
In Spain, it's always difficult (as in illegal) to bring a dog into a restaurant. I've been told that the penalty for the restaurateur is a fine of around 3000€.. Having said that, he was allowed in once they'd seen how well-behaved he was. If you like rustic, you'd enjoy the Bentas de Donamaria..!! (Two menus: 20€ & 30€)

Anonymous said...

I can't think of anything succinct for the Comp. Have been toying with Dave Brailsford trying anything, wearing stockings vs shaving the legs and plucky little UK going it alone etc etc. But the reality of the pacing (before they used motor bikes) and on the Bordeaux - Paris race was very interesting. Another half hour of Internet surfing!

Pipérade said...

This is where that tandem pic came from:
Those old bikes don't look that different to today's. But I'm sure there are a host of detail differences + the carbon fibre!

Pipérade said...

Caption Comp:
French suspicions are raised during the 1896 Olympics that the British team may have found a loophole in the regs.