Tuesday, 7 June 2016

231. Into summer

1st July. I'm not one of those slightly obsessive fans of all things railway - but I must admit that the "Jacobite" train that runs from Fort William to Mallaig through magnificent mountain and coastal scenery on Scotland's west coast has my full attention! 
The Glenfinnan viaduct (aka the Harry Potter viaduct)

Yes, I know it's not fast but speed isn't everything. It's only a 42 mile trip as well - but what a 42 miles! (it takes just over 2hrs) I've been on much longer train journeys (one in particular lasted 4 days) but there's something about this journey that appeals to me very much. Those Scottish hills are made for steam.. Pity they couldn't find an observation car to hitch on the back.. Or, even better, a US-style "club car" with a rounded end where you could sit and watch the world go by while enjoying a dose of Dr Glenmorangie's finest 12 year old tincture!☺ Watch it in full screen and see what you think:

27th June. I was out and about this morning in Bayonne when I spotted one of these (right). I've been meaning to mention for some time the appearance in Bayonne of some of those exotic-looking modes of transport from Thailand - yes, I'm talking about the Tuk-Tuk.. They look like a nice way for tourists to get about the local area, especially when it's hot. Personally, I wouldn't be seen dead in one! They remind me of those 'trains' that circulate on the roads around resorts, like this!

There's another curious mode of transport (this time for small packages) that's sprung up here - the oddly-named Hemengo Erlea company that runs these pedal-powered delivery vehicles (left)..

Buried by all the EU Referendum froth over the weekend was this stunning performance by England in winning the final Test Match against the Australian Wallabies. A truly thrilling match in which the lead changed hands no fewer than ten times, it was impossible to guess which team would emerge victorious at the final whistle.. Some great rugby was played by both teams and there was an avalanche of tries.. Boring it wasn't. I haven't had time to watch it again but I will be doing so. To win all three matches of a Test Series against Southern Hemisphere opposition in their own backyard was a monumental achievement. Remember, this England side were booted out of their own World Cup (by Wales) only last year. How times have changed.
Meanwhile, the seismic aftershocks following the result of the UK's referendum on our continued membership of the EU continue to rumble on. The European media is full of wild speculation and much ill-judged and premature comment from opportunist politicians of all persuasions. I think the wisest course of action would be for everyone to sit on their hands for a while. My view is that the referendum tapped into a long-simmering discontent with the direction that the EU has taken towards a superstate, with the loss of sovereignty implied in that. The unelected cabal of the top echelons of the EU failed to seek popular support from the electorate across Europe for their grandiose ambitions for a monolithic state. I think they seriously misjudged the mood of many. Indeed, over the last weekend, many French friends were supportive of the outcome of the UK referendum and expressed the wish that they too could vote on this issue.

I don't think I need to add this but I will. I love Europe - its cultural riches, its cities, towns, villages and hamlets. I love the fact that in a short journey, you can hear many different languages, experience different styles of cooking and feast your eyes on an ever-changing landscape. In my case, a vote for Brexit was not the vote of a "Little Englander" but rather the vote of someone who believes first and foremost in democracy. Everything else is detail. I seldom agreed with Tony Benn but these words of his should be carved in stone:
  “In the course of my life I have developed five little democratic questions. If one meets a powerful person — Adolf Hitler, Joe Stalin or Bill Gates — ask them five questions: ‘What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? And how can we get rid of you?’ If you cannot get rid of the people who govern you, you do not live in a democratic system.”
25th June. We had an enjoyable lunch yesterday with fourteen of Madame's painting group at the Hotel/Restaurant du Chêne at Itxassou.. It's well worth a visit if you're ever in the area. It was our first visit in 25 years! (images here) It came as no surprise to me that, as a result of the hot news of the day (the outcome of the UK Referendum), many of the group were curious about my reaction. They seemed fully in sympathy with my view that the EU had outgrown its original remit. In my opinion, the cloistered political classes in Brussels led their ideals run away with them and they embarked down a path in a direction that few wanted, other than themselves. I think the results would be quite instructive if other countries were to ask themselves the same Leave/Remain question. However, I'm not holding my breath. A wise American once said to me: Don't ask the question if you can't stand the answer. I think that applies in this instance.  

24th June. I normally avoid discussing politics here but today is very special.. this song enscapsulates my mood following the UK referendum decision to leave the EU. My view: I love Europe, but I dislike intensely the undemocratic construct the EEC morphed into. The UK almost bankrupted itself during WWII to restore democracy to Europe and yet somehow it managed to sleepwalk into a corrupt political union led by unelected commissars (commissionaires in EU-speak), led by unelected nameless leaders with their own agenda, with a toothless European parliament. It's worth paying any price to free ourselves from this mess to regain control of our own affairs. (I speak as one who is in receipt of a UK pension paid in sterling.)
Another look at the "Pays Basque" from France 3 TV:
23rd June. I've mentioned Ernest Hemingway before here - he lived an enviable, though perhaps over-marinaded, life to the full in many exotic locations in those golden years prior to mass tourism - so I was grateful to the BBC for including this short tale from his former cook in Cuba.

22nd June. The forecast for this afternoon is 35°.. so I was up and out early with the pooch this morning while it's still reasonably cool. He's almost 15 and the vet says he has a heart murmur - so the old boy has to be looked after. I gave the garden a good soaking last night and another this morning as I'm trying to keep the lawn green. Probably fighting a losing battle there.

On Friday, we're heading off to the hills for a lunch with Madame's painting group.. They're a lively crowd - so we're looking forward to that.

We had an invite from the people at the bottom of the garden to an "apéro-dinatoire" on Saturday evening. In case you're wondering what an apéro-dinatoire is, it lies somewhere between "come round for a drink" and "come round for dinner".. A few households have got together to invite all the residents of their cul-de-sac and us (who back onto it). We've been asked to bring something sweet or savoury.. I think it's a very sociable idea as it will enable us to meet all those we've been on nodding terms with for a while.

And to round off the weekend, there's a lunch arranged for my choir on Sunday..!

20th June. A change of gear from the rugby.. I was browsing YouTube earlier and I happened upon this sublime piece by Gabriel Fauré.. who wrote it at the age of 19. Listen to it and, if it's new to you, I'd be surprised if it didn't have the same impact on you as it did on me. I also discovered that it's in the repertoire of the choir I sing with.
18th June. This second Test match between Australia and England is one that will go down in the history books.. What a performance by both teams.. For me, Australia came out too hyped up.. but after some initial handbags, it settled down and the Aussies must be wondering what they have to do to score against this magnificent England side. A great team effort and everyone out there played their part. It wasn't pretty but England will take the win and the series.
16th June. The latest craze for 2017?

14th June. Here are the highlights of that Springboks Ireland match I promised you.. (haven't seen it myself yet)

11th June. Today saw England play the first of a series of 3 Test matches against the Australian Wallabies - and what an epic encounter it turned out to be.. The match starts at 16:19 into the video..
Ireland played South Africa today but I missed that match. I'll post a video of the game asap.

8th June. The big local news is that by beating Stade Aurillacois 21-16 on Saturday night, Aviron Bayonnais find themselves back in the Top 14, much to the delight of the locals (an especially sweet development since arch local rivals Biarritz are still rooted in Division 2..!)

4th June. This evening we had another pilgrimage to Chez Pantxua, one of our favourite restaurants on the Côte Basque. As always, it was absolutely faultless. (They have a cod omelette as a starter on their menu - mmm!) It's ideally situated (map here) by the sailing centre at Socoa (just across the bay of Saint-Jean-de-Luz) with a large car park nearby. Afterwards, a post-prandial waddle around the harbour is the perfect end to the evening.

3rd June. Two or three little-known factoids for you when it all goes quiet in the snug:

The first motor race to be called a Grand Prix was held at Pau on the street circuit that runs around the town centre. Hard to imagine that those technically advanced cars from the great German teams of the 1930s - Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union - raced around these narrow streets.

Place Royale
I read the other day that Mary Lincoln, the widow of the assassinated US president, moved to Pau in 1876 and lived there for 4 years at two addresses before settling on the Hôtel de la Paix that formerly was situated in the quintessentially French square Place Royale, Pau. The former Hôtel de la Paix has since been converted into apartments (next to Le Majestic restaurant).

Villa Eugénie
And in a similar move, the Empress Eugénie (widow of Napoleon III) moved to England following France's defeat in the Franco-Prussian war in 1870. She lived at Farnborough Hill (now a Catholic Girls School) from 1880 until her death in 1920. She had previously spent her summers at the magnificent Villa Eugénie - now the Hotel du Palais at Biarritz.    

Following a disastrous fire in 1903, the Villa Eugénie was rebuilt and enlarged as we see it today in all its glory.
Hotel du Palais

While we're talking about Pau (which, curiously, is the capital of both Béarn and the Pyrénées-Atlantiques), there's an interesting funicular railway.. Take a ride on it going up.. or going down..