Thursday, 1 September 2016

235. Another milestone..

30th October. Yesterday was a beautiful afternoon with temps somewhere up in the high twenties and so we went for a walk along the beach at Ilbarritz (below - pity about the jerky camera work). It was like mid-summer: the beach was crowded, a few hardy souls were in the water as an endless procession of waves rolled in to explode with crashes of white surf on the rocks. It looks to me as though the video was filmed from this rented house - which is situated in a spectacular location on the cliffs at Bidart.

(More of this Basque choir here)

27th October. My tip for the French presidential election that will take place in 2017? François Fillon.. (you read it here first!) Interestingly, his wife Penelope is Anglo-Welsh. (French profile here)

Two additions to my list of the "10 Commandments for the Home DIY Enthusiast". We (no names!) managed to knock a lamp off a side table the other day - and it broke - so we went out to buy a replacement. Once back home, I unpacked the box it came in, discarded the 3 miles of wrapping paper, plugged it in et voila! Nothing..

Of course, it hadn't been supplied with a bulb and there was no indication on the box that it was bulb-less. So:

15. If you buy a lamp just before the shop closes, you will only discover that it is not supplied with a bulb once you arrive home.

16. None of the spare bulbs you have at home will fit.     

26th October. We drove south along the coast yesterday afternoon to find ourselves in a sunny Saint-Jean-de-Luz (25°C). Waves were rumbling in past the breakwaters and surging into the bay where stand-up board surfers were riding them. The narrow streets were thronged with people taking advantage of the half term holiday in the late season sunshine and the beach was crowded as on a summer's day with many in the water. We stopped for a coffee in the Place Louis XIV and I felt myself heating up in the sunshine. I could have done without my sweater.. Hard to believe it was late October.  

23rd October. We were invited out at midday for an apéro that morphed into a lunch. There were all sorts of mouth-watering nibbles on offer including some mini-blinis with a variety of toppings (tapenade, tzatziki and others), a really tasty homemade pizza and a sublime tarte aux pistaches. I tried something to drink that was new to me - a castagnou - a glass of sweet Pacherenc enlivened with a splash of chestnut liqueur from the ArdècheTrès more-ish. We were well and truly spoiled! (NB. Chestnut liqueur available here.. ideal Christmas - oops! - Winter Holiday gift!)

According to the car, it was 25° this afternoon.. (that's 77° for anyone watching in Fahrenheit..)

22nd October. I went for a bike ride along the Nive this morning to give my knees a good work-out and on the return I stopped off at the rowing club for a chat. People genuinely seemed to think that it wouldn't be a problem if I rejoined the club - even if I had to be heaved / winched / manhandled out of the boat after a sortie - so I might just find myself wandering down there one morning very soon.  

15th October. This video explains a little about how I feel about rowing and maybe why I miss it now that I've had to stop. It was filmed at Soustons, a large lake in Les Landes not far from here (I've rowed there a few times). The aim is always to make the next stroke better that the previous one.. so you focus in turn on all the individual elements that comprise it. In doing so, I always found that I soon became totally disconnected from whatever else I may have had on my mind.. and I'd enter a zone of total concentration. The final few seconds of the video show a crew accelerating from a slow paddle to almost a racing pace.. When I was with a crew that was really together, that transition as the power came on was the moment I enjoyed the most - the surge of the boat as it came alive, the quick hands around the finish, the rock solid balance and the water singing underneath. Very rewarding.

The darling of the French Left the late François Mitterrand (the former French president) used to have a house (Latche) near here. We once came across his motorcade in the vicinity being escorted by a véritable posse of motorcycle outriders.

14th October. Coming back from San Sebastian (again!) this afternoon, this song came to mind. It was always a favourite of mine. I always thought Maria Muldaur had a wonderful voice. See what you think:

Then there's this one by Syreeta.. (Stevie Wonder's ex-wife) 

Think both of these songs are ultra-catchy and the trick will be to see how long it takes before I stop humming them in the shower! 

9th October. After lunch, we decided to have a look at Le Brouillarta* - it's the annual exhibition by local painters, sculptors and water-colourists - both amateur and professional - that's held in the gardens (right) behind la Grande Plage. One or two paintings caught my eye - but not with sufficient force to have me reaching for my back pocket!
* Brouillarta = the name given locally to an Arcus cloud..(see here). This was the scene at Biarritz in late August:
5th October. We went to San Sebastian this morning (about 45 mins away) - our first time there minus the pooch - and so we decided to stay for lunch (dogs are normally streng verboten  in restaurants in Spain). We tried KATA.4 - an oddly named oyster bar and restaurant we found just a few yards from the Hotel Maria Cristina. It featured a very interesting menu with few of the standards that we're used to in France. We ordered the pork spare ribs with Thai noodles - an extremely tasty offering. Take a look at their dishes.
3rd October. I had one of those "à propos of nothing" memory flashes earlier today that brought to mind an unexpectedly memorable lunch we once had when we stumbled upon a great little bistro à vins in Paris some 25-30 years ago.

We'd been walking through the centre of Paris down near the river when I was stopped dead in my tracks by the rich aroma of something delicious that appeared to emanate from the door of a bistro à vins we'd just passed. Retracing our steps we found ourselves outside La Taverne Henri IV (click on the link for a good write-up from the NY Times). A quick scan of the menu and we were in..

The atmosphere was heavy with the intensely aromatic smell of cheeses, hams, cured meats and fresh bread. It looked to be a "serious" and proper food establishment - it was cosily lit and we immediately felt right at home. We found ourselves a table and ordered some rillettes and pâté that was served with some crusty country bread. The carte des vins featured lesser known regional wines by the glass. These weren't thin "pizza" wines - far from it - and I can't now remember what we ordered but I do remember drinking a velvety-rich red from the south west and thinking that whoever bought their wine knew what he was doing.

Finally, after a very satisfying lunch, we reluctantly left to continue our stroll. The taste (and the fumes!) of one of the more memorable little lunches I've ever enjoyed lingered on with me all afternoon. This was not some ersatz themed bar - it was the genuine article. It's somewhere not to be missed. Make a note of the address and keep it in your wallet for the next time you're in Paris: 13 Place du Pont Neuf, 75001 Paris (link to map). If you do manage a visit, let me know your impressions. It would be reassuring to know that it hasn't changed. We must return.. 

Summer has gradually morphed into Autumn here.. There are no chill winds or piles of leaves swirling in the avenue or even displays of Christmas products in the shops yet.. (yet!) The wood burner has remained unlit and neither of us has seriously contemplated switching on a radiator or two. But - the signs are here.. The other days a large vee-shaped formation of cranes flapped noisily overhead, heading for warmer climes. Many of the late season human tourists have returned to the north. We're still eating outside on the terrace - but these days we check the temperature first. That plancha of mine is starting to look sideways at me.. it won't be long before I clean it off and grease it prior to heaving it to its winter hibernation in the garage. We've booked a trip to Ye Olde London Towne in early December - and in April next year we're going to Croatia and points south. Having spent a few thousand hours flying overhead that part of the world I'm looking forward to seeing it at ground level.

26th September. Here's a short video I made that features some of my favourite images from this part of the world. The word eclectic could have been coined for the dazzling variety of architectural styles that flourished on the Côte Basque - and particularly in Biarritz - during la Belle Époque. Imaginations ran riot as increasingly extravagant houses were built that incorporated styling cues from many sources. The results are here to see:

(and in case you're wondering, Egun on = Good morning in Basque ↗)
I think I would have enjoyed la belle Epoque - provided modern dentistry was available!

15th September. I had to wend my way via a tangle of lanes to Dantcharia for some shopping this morning  - I think the usual way must have been blocked with fallen trees after the storms of the other night. I decided to swing by the Pont du Diable to see how the new memorial looked - minus the crowd..

The evading airmen would cycle here from Bayonne and then make their way on foot to an old sheep barn that was, and still is, amazingly well-hidden. I doubt it can be seen from further than 20 metres away. There they'd wait until the conditions were right for a night crossing of the Pyrenees. The Germans patrolled the high ground along the border area and so the Comète guides would lead the airmen along stream beds in the valley bottoms, being careful to avoid being spotted from on high.     

Coche Mari Etcheveste
Memorial to the Basque passeurs
of Larressore, Espelette & Souraïde 
12th September. I'm just letting the dust settle after another memorable long weekend with the international Réseau Comète family in the Pays Basque.. This year we were privileged to welcome the daughter and grand-daughter of a Basque smuggler turned Comète wartime guide (right) who had come all the way from California to be with us. As with so many people connected with Comète, he hadn't spoken about his exploits to his family other than in broad general terms (that gave little away). It was an emotional occasion for them when I showed them the memorial that "Les amis du réseau Comète" and the village of Larressore had put in place at the Pont du Diable. (Coche Mari is second from the left on the bottom row) As soon as I've gathered together all the photos of a weekend that's still reverberating between my ears I'll post the details.

In the meantime, here's Angelo Debarre with Thomas Dutronc (Françoise Hardy's son):

8th September. I was just browsing through some historic images on the Aviron Bayonnais website and I came across this one - it appears to be a colorised version of a black and white print. It shows a club crew sitting in a clinker-built wooden four (clinker built = made of overlapping planks). When? I would hazard a guess as sometime in the 1920s or perhaps the 1930s. What struck me - and depressed me a little if I'm honest - is that I started out rowing in boats exactly like this one. The oars were also all wood.. with a leather collar that needed a smear of tallow before the sortie. The oar sat in a brass "gate". Boats (and oars) like these were heavy but once up to speed they would 'run' in the water. Aesthetically I find them more pleasing to the eye than their modern carbon fibre equivalents - which, I have to say, are far lighter and more rigid.. but are not as easy on the eye. Modern oars and sculls are made of carbon fibre with plastic fittings to hold them where they sit in the gates (now plastic so no need for tallow any more!). These old clinker boats were beautifully built with fine wooden ribs, brass screws and copper fastenings and the highly varnished boats of my youth would gleam in the sun. Sigh... OK, nurse, I'll go back to my room now!

 4th September. As the end of the cycling season approaches, La Vuelta a España (Spain's big race) visits our part of the world. Here are the highlights of Stage 14 (which starts from Urdax.. which is just a hop, step and a jump across the border from us.) Spare a thought for the riders because these hills are steep.. I've mentioned Urdax several times before.. it's a quaint, picturesque Basque village (in Spain) that deserves to feature on any list of "must visit" places in this area..

1st September. Today, we decided to mark our 9th year here with lunch at La Plancha, Bidart (just to the south of Biarritz). It's set in an idyllic location, right on the beach, beneath the Chateau d'Ilbarritz. On the map here, it's been incorrectly labelled - La Plancha is actually the much larger building directly across the road that someone has incorrectly tagged as the Plage de la Creeck.

We did some "bronzing" on the beach before arriving at La Plancha for lunch.. (they don't accept bookings). More photos here

What did we have, I hear you ask? We started with a sangria while studying the menu - then we ordered some sardines between us - followed by lotte (monkfish) cooked Spanish-style (left) served with a baked potato. "Spanish-style" means it was cooked with enough garlic to stun a medium sized warthog and also to keep the flies away from me for at least a week! Joking aside, I have to say it was de-lic-ious.. A 50cl bottle of dry Jurançon* (a great local white) eased everything down. 

* Read the Jurançon link above.. trust you-know-who to bring you-know-what into it! ☺

The great mass of tourists have clearly decamped and so the roads were markedly more "fluide" than just a week ago. Life is slowly returning to normal.. (phew!)  


Anonymous said...

On hols. May 2013, and the Col d'Aubisque was closed due to the snow. But many years ago we drove around, up and down, in the area it's beautiful hot, cold, wet and dry.
Only five more stages and we can get a life not watching that Tour. Lesley

Pipérade said...

Yes, we drove around that area a few years ago.. I still can't understand how they can race up those hills.
Beautiful scenery but I doubt if the riders notice it.

Pipérade said...

We visited this region 4 years ago during a break from the "Fêtes de Bayonne".. It's not far from here - probably no more than a couple of hours.

Anonymous said...

Good Grief, I saw 3 comments and thought that someone else had elbowed in..
It was that post...escaping the heat.... that got us to go from the Bearns with our friends to the lake. The Dog fell into the water (so green that he thought it was solid) and caught a chill, there were 'route barée' signs up so we were unable to walk a circular trip and the direct car route was closed, had to go sort of via Lourdes. It also rained most of the week. Had a great time. Back to the Atlantic coast Oct 1st for a week. I hope this time to get to the fishy pla(i)ce for a flat fish meal. Lesley

Pipérade said...

That place - you mean the one at Andernos les Bains? Try the turbot.. Finish it all and win a prize! (it's big!)
Or Chez Pantxua - the one that's never let us down at Socoa?
There's also La Plancha at Bidart, and another one we went to last year.. La Tantina de la Playa.. mentioned here:
Have fun!

Anonymous said...

Is it really 2014 that we were doing the DIY Rules of Engagement?


Pipérade said...

It was December 2013! ☺