Saturday, 7 January 2017

238. Greasy Joan weather

31st January. I hope I'm not tempting fate but today could be the end of the longest cold spell we've had since moving here almost 10 years ago. Today, the mid-afternoon temp was up to 20°.. We went to Biarritz and there was someone swimming.. and without a wet suit as well. Hats off to him!

Over the weekend, we went to the cinema twice to see two much-touted films. The first was "La La Land" and apparently it's received the most Oscar nominations of any film - ever. I'm afraid your correspondent thought it was the greatest, copper-bottomed, over-inflated and hyped turkey of all time. Yes, Ryan Gosling (he of the single facial expression) danced well and appeared to play the piano - and Emma Stone - I'm trying and failing to be positive - was in it as well. (that's the best I can do) But - I thought the two had zero chemistry (neither of them convinced) and it was hard to see what inspired the mutual attraction that we were expected to believe in. And that, for a film where the central theme was their relationship, is pretty damning. Royaume Uni - Nul Points.

The other film was "Manchester by the Sea". What to say about this shocker..? I'd say that if you're a borderline depressive and you're actively looking for something that will trigger that final surge of despair needed to push you over the edge - then go right ahead and go and see it - this could be just what you need. However, if, like me, you happen to be a reasonably balanced individual, then I'd say steer well clear of it. I'm afraid that I fail to see the point of films like these that wallow in the tragedies that occur in other people's lives.            

28th January. I went into town this morning with Madame to give her a hand with the shopping. Stopping off at Montauzer en route, we picked up some of his fabled truffled boudin blanc sausages.. (mentioned before here). These normally only appear around Christmas-time, so we took advantage of this unexpected bounty.. When served with sautéed apple, they can be safely guaranteed to stop all conversation for as long as it takes to dispose of them.. (They don't show up on his website for some reason) Here's a reminder of this mouth-watering dish that will have you drooling over your keyboard.. (Health Warning: I realise that we're in danger of stepping into the realm of food-porn with this photo)  

27th January. We decided to have lunch out today so we took the free navette (below) into Bayonne and made our way to the slightly-off-the-beaten-track Café du Musée. This is a cosy old bistrot ably run by husband-and-wife team Philippe and Sylvie Lopez (right). Philippe's cooking is always fresh and innovative - the menu changes daily - and there's usually a choice of 3 entrées, 3 main courses and 3 desserts. Sylvie runs the front of house and she takes a genuine friendly interest in all the patrons. If you're visiting Bayonne, this is a 'must'! If for any reason you're not able to reserve a table, and want to trust to luck, then I'd advise arriving early - every table was taken today.

Edited to add: We took the navette to come home and when we got on it, there was only one seat free - and Madame took that one. To my eternal embarrassment/shame, a girl of about 18-20 stood up and offered me her seat - and insisted that I take it. (Tell the truth time: It also happened when we were in the Underground in London in mid-December.) I must have that confused pensioner expression off to a tee!

By the way, the navette runs every 8 minutes on this circular route around Bayonne. It's the ideal way to see Bayonne as a visitor - and, what's more, it's free. (Courtesy note: it's usual for people entering or leaving the bus to say, "Bonjour" or "Merci, au revoir" to the driver.)       

I managed to find a higher-res recording of an ensemble led by the great Dorado Schmitt playing that jazz manouche classic - "Dark Eyes" - at the 2005 Django Reinhardt Festival in New York.. I know I've featured it here before - but it's well worth it in my view! By the way, that's the great Angelo Debarre standing up in the background on the guitar..   

26th January. Final visit to the rhumatologue this afternoon to inject the last lot of gloop into my noisy knees. It's hard to tell if this treatment is doing me any good or not - but from what the doctor tells me, I'll have to have this done on an annual basis from now on. 

Still very cold here - I'm sure the temps were sub-zero just now when I toddled off into town for the bread. There was a keen wind as well which felt as though my face was freezing into a rictus! All character building stuff! On the bright side, the skies are wall-to-wall blue with not a cloud in sight. 

This is the scene at Gourette, a winter sports station about 2 hrs to the south east of us.
Then there's La Pierre Saint-Martin, which is probably the nearest ski resort for people here. Unfortunately, as much as I'd like to go up there, I think it would cause terminal damage to my knees. 

22nd January. I had my annual health check with my GP yesterday. My blood pressure was right in the 120/70 groove and my heart rate was steady at 54bpm. After running through the results of my blood analysis, it appeared that I had some headroom in the area of cholesterol, so - seeing that we are still in the grip of very cold weather, we decided that a little winter treat was called for at lunchtime today.

Yes, it was raclette time! This is nothing more than a table top grill that - hang on, a picture being worth a thousand words, take a look here (left). Set it up on your dining table, turn it on and while it's heating up, assemble the following ingredients for a classic raclette: for two, you'll need 10-12 slices of raclette cheese, about half a dozen slices of mountain ham, a green salad and a few steamed potatoes and finally a crusty baguette. Slide two slices of raclette cheese under the hot grill and while you're waiting for the cheese to bubble up, ease the cork out of a bottle of burgundy and do the necessary. When the cheese is ready, slide the melted cheese over your ham or your potato (avoiding your lap unless you like living dangerously!). While you're eating the first one, put a fresh slice of cheese under the grill. Continue this until all food items have disappeared. This is real comfort food. Probably not a good idea to eat anything in the evening after this! Take a look here at other variations.

20th January. Frosty start to the day here - according to the car* it was -1°C.. Still, it's sunny with blue skies so mustn't grumble.

* A VW - so take it with a pinch of salt!☺

18th January. Still cold (0°C) here this morning. I was in town doing some shopping (a man's work is never started – oops, finished) and my hands were completely numb when I returned. 

17th January. Memory's a strange thing isn't it.. How is it that I can't remember what I came upstairs for and yet - listening to the opening credits of the BBC's "Maigret" series from the early 1960s is as fresh, timeless and evocative as it ever was.. It starts at 01:38..
14th January. There was a piece on the news this evening about a planetarium that's been opened on the summit of the Pic du Midi.. a peak in the central Pyrenees that's shy of 10,000ft by just a few hundred feet. Just added it to my 'must-do' list!
Mind you, I feel ill after looking at this video of the ascent by cable car.. (starts at 0:20) having been scarred for life by "Where Eagles Dare"..!

We drove down to Socoa yesterday intending to call in at our favourite seafood restaurant - Chez Pantxua - for lunch, but sadly they were closed until February. We had one look at the 23€ lunch menu proposed by their neighbour - Arraina - and seconds later, we were sitting in their cosy enclosed heated terrace from where we could watch the wintry scene outside in comfort.

The weather was disturbed - the house had been buffeted by wind and rain during the night straight in from the bay of Biscay - and while half the sky was blue, the other half appeared to feature every cloud known to man. The sea was boiling up and crashing over the nearby sea wall in towering explosions of white foam. The gusty wind was blowing seemingly from all quarters and occasionally contained large drops of rain or hail. Waves were making it through past the sea wall into the bay.

The menus arrived and our interest in the weather outside evaporated! An hour or so later we emerged blinking into the sunlight after a delicious lunch, happy to have found another restaurant to add to our list of favourites. Well worth a repeat visit.

11th January. Just back from a visit to the "rhumatologue".. For some time now, whenever I've stood up, my knees have sounded like practice night at castanet class - and so today the doc injected some silicon-based gloop into them. I've another two sessions of this in the next few weeks. On the bright side, I've been put on 'light duties' (heh heh!)..

Hundreds of thousands of ducks are being slaughtered here in south west France in a preventative campaign designed to arrest the spread of a virulent strain (H5N8) of bird flu (la grippe aviaire). It's believed that the virus is spread by migratory birds. It was reported on the lunchtime news that it is active in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques (that's us). Now, as to the question whether or not it's safe to eat the affected species of poultry, the World Health Organisation (scroll halfway down this link) has issued a statement: "The WHO and other expert bodies, therefore, do not currently consider avian influenza a food safety risk for consumers." Me? I think I'll try and avoid duck in all its forms for the next few months. This will not be easy, living in south-west France. If you experience any of the following symptoms: muscle pain, cough, fever and/or sore throat and you think you might have been at risk, it might be worth a visit to your généraliste (GP). More here.

7th January. The start of the 2017 RBS 6 Nations Rugby Tournament is drawing ever closer. Scotland and Ireland start this year's proceedings - closely followed by England v France on Saturday, 4th February at Twickenham. Unfortunately, Manu Tuilagi, the Samoan-born "one-man wrecking ball", is set to miss the entire campaign through injury. Great pity.. See what he's capable of here:
6th January. It's been an unseasonably cold start to the year here.. (I know.. nowhere near as cold as Wisconsin!) For some odd reason, these lines by Shakespeare, last heard in a dusty classroom many decades ago, are stuck in a recess somewhere in my head and single digit temperatures are usually all it takes to bring them out:
WHEN icicles hang by the wall,
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail,
(the rest here)
I'm not looking for sympathy but we seldom see temperatures down near 0°C here on the coast so the chill winds of the last few days have come as a bit of a shock to the system.. If I get knocked down, the Accident & Emergency Unit at the local hospital will think I'm sponsored by Damart! By the way, if you're scratching your head over the reference to 'Greasy Joan', take a look at the Shakespeare link!


Anonymous said...

Are the slaughtered duck destroyed or will they find their way into the food markets? Lesley.

Pipérade said...

I asked myself the same question - but then I forgot about it..!
However, now that you've reminded me, I found this link:
According to the World Health Organisation: "The WHO and other expert bodies, therefore, do not currently consider avian influenza a food safety risk for consumers."
Me? I'd say it's probably best avoid duck products (if you can) for the next few months.
Take your pick!

Anonymous said...

I used to know why short term memory gets so bad as we get older - but I forget.
Back in the '60s my favourite character from Maigret was Lapointe. He always drew the short straw on standing watching the baddies out in the cold and rain! Lesley

Pipérade said...

I had it in mind that his numéro deux was Lucas..? But I'm probably wrong. It was a great series - and the BBC played it straight - without any "Allo Allo" nonsense.

Pipérade said...

Here's your man:

Anonymous said...

No, that's Lucas , - twice the age of my Lapointe. The point was that he was the Numero 3 ou 4. After all I liked the Young Man when I watched in the 60's! Lesley

Anonymous said...

Raclette was introduced to us by a British neighbour so we might have got it all wrong, with smashed potato, meat of choice then the cheese under ther grill. Mind you, depending on one's greed you do end up with the cheese very near the grill. The dish of potatoes live on the top of the kit to keep warm. Our mini tradition is that we have it with friends after the 11th November Service.
It is also Tartiflette time, I/we love it. Shame about the waistline/hips! Lesley

Pipérade said...

As Bill McLaren (the legendary rugby commentator) once observed of a large bulky forward: "And there's Xxxxx Xxxxxxx - riding very low in the water..!"
Yes, I agree - raclette is probably not very good for maintaining a sylph-like profile.. but every once in a while, why not!
As for the ingredients, I don't think there should be any hard and fast rules.
We only put the cheese under the grill though - the mind boggles at the thought of mash, meat plus cheese squeezed in!☺