Wednesday, 1 February 2017

239. Politics à la française

28th February. The long-awaited (by some) extension of the TGV line from Paris as far as Bordeaux was inaugurated today. Up until now, the high speed track was only available from Paris to Tours - but this newly laid high speed track will enable TGV trains to reach Bordeaux from Paris in 2 hrs 4 mins - which is about 1 hour 10 mins less than at present. I understand property prices in Bordeaux have rocketed during the past 12 months in anticipation of this new line, thus opening up the possibility of living in Bordeaux and commuting to Paris. Thankfully, travel from Bordeaux south to the Pays Basque is still via the old rail tracks and it takes almost 2 hours. The thorny question of building the new track down here has been put off for a few years in the (vain) hope that local tempers will have cooled. Some hope!

In my view, the Pays Basque needs connecting to the high speed rail system like un trou dans la tête. Developers and builders are everywhere - buying up old properties, flattening them and then constructing multi-occupation residences on the cleared sites. The sellers get the top price, the Town Halls are happy because they can demand more tax from the same site and the developers and the builders make a profit.

The problem is that the Pays Basque is a 'destination' area - it seems that there's no shortage of people who want to retire here. While it seems that every square meter of available space is being built on, the roads are becoming increasingly congested. Where one property formerly had one or two cars, erecting a residence in its place guarantees that it will result in at least 5 times as many vehicles. The Pays Basque is noted for the charm of its white-painted properties with Basque rouge shutters, topped by gently slanting overhanging roofs. Sadly, the old Basque properties are being squeezed out one by one and replaced by ugly concrete and glass monstrosities, like here (below) in Bayonne. What on earth were the planners thinking of - apart from the increased receipts from taxation? (I think I might have just answered my own question).

And here's more of the same in Anglet. Appalling monstrosities. They add nothing to the environment but everything to the coffers of the respective Town Halls.

For many, the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games are remembered chiefly for Jesse Owens' astonishing feat of athleticism in winning gold medals in the 100m, 200m, the 4x100m relay and the high jump events.

However, against all expectations, another group of US athletes won gold in the Mens VIIIs. Don Hume, Joe Rantz, George ‘Shorty’ Hunt, Jim ‘Stub’ McMillin, John White, Jr., Gordon Adam, Chuck Day, Roger Morris, in front Bob Moch were the boys of the University of Washington’s 1936 crew who represented the USA in the VIIIs. They were the sons of loggers, shipyard workers and farmers, and they defeated the Italians, Germans and British oarsmen in the Olympic final in front of Adolf Hitler and other Nazi dignitaries.
Here's the short version of their inspirational story:
And the fuller account (the one to watch!). It also tries to explain the ethos of rowing:

22nd February. This short film (not always easy to watch) touches on the importance of wine in French life, showing how it's a central thread that runs through their lives, how the great occasions of life are celebrated hand-in-hand with wine, and how life's pleasures and sadnesses can be conjured up by the memories of certain wines. If the video refuses to run, click on this link and scroll down to launch the "Fil Rouge".
If you're an aficionado of chocolate in all its forms, then this link that a friend kindly sent me will surely have you drooling at the chops..! I've never quite been able to understand how a town like Bayonne, with only 40,000 inhabitants, manages to sustain so many 'high end' chocolate shops*. Much of the activity happens here in the rue Port Neuf (below) - so there's no need to waddle a great distance! (couldn't resist that one!)

* Just found out there are 12 of them..

21st February. This week's special offer! I know I've mentioned the great Dorado Schmitt here many times before - but if you'd like to listen to more of his work, then open this link and click on Videos.. There are also a few other samples of his under the MP3 and YouTube captions. 

Banjos.. I love this story!
I feel cold just watching this video of Bill Buchholz's beautifully built ice-boat out on a frozen Chickawaukie Lake, Rockport, Maine up in the north eastern USA. Wouldn't this make you feel glad to be alive..? Skimming over the ice at a fair old lick on a sunny day in winter in frozen Maine? I would willingly sacrifice an organ to try it! The boat is right up meine strasse.. with not a hint of carbon fibre in sight - just the honeyed glow of varnished wood:

That final comment made me laugh! More here.

20th February. I've just stumbled upon the photographs of Véronique Derouet.. this was the one that caught my eye.. along with this one (below). No prizes for guessing where it is! (best seen full size)

18th February. I've just discovered that an old fave of mine - Kitty O'Shea's Irish pub in Paris - has closed and has been re-invented as the Frog Hop House. Kitty O'Shea's couldn't have been more authentic - the friendly bar staff were as Irish as they come and the Guinness was well-kept. In other words, a great place to be trapped in.

17th February. At choir practice last night we tackled a new piece by Schubert (Tantum Ergo in C D739). All I'm saying is that we've a long way to go!
15th February. I went for a walk along the beach at Anglet (formerly known as dog-walking territory) this afternoon as it was a warm day.

We had 19° here yesterday. We'd planned to go out for a seafoody lunch at Chez Pantxua (just across the bay in St Jean de Luz) but, in turning the car around in the street the day before, someone* had contrived to pinch a tyre sidewall against the kerb and, in doing so, tore an irreparable split in it. I always carry a footpump in the car but this time it was of no use. Of course, VW discontinued the practice of supplying spare wheels for this model some years ago - so the car was completely undriveable - and, to cap it all, it appeared that no-one in town stocked this particular tyre size! I'll spare you the rest of the story - suffice to say that I picked the car up from the tyre supplier in town late yesterday afternoon after some 260-odd euros (breakdown recovery + new tyre) had changed hands. So Chez Pantxua will have to wait for another day. It's strange how your day can be spoilt by such a trivial incident.

* Yes, that someone was me.
13th February. And now for something completely different.. I heard of this recording earlier today - it's Keith Jarrett and his "The Köln Concert" - a concert recording of solo piano improvisations performed at the Opera House in Cologne on January 24, 1975. (this blog is nothing if not up to date!) The background to this recording is worth reading. I'm not sure I could listen to this for long.. but I could be, and probably am, wrong.
Going further back in time, I find "Round Midnight" by Thelonious Monk more to my taste..
12th February. Post match: Well, I don't think I'll be giving up my day job after my prediction that Scotland would win in Paris! Highlights here. (en français)

Just as my heart-rate has returned to normal after the thrilling match in Cardiff yesterday, the prospect of the 6 Nations encounter between France and Scotland this afternoon threatens to send it surging back into the red zone again! My money's on a win for Scotland.

After a pulsating match in Cardiff yesterday, England emerged winners after fashioning a sweeping try by Elliot Daly in the closing minutes. Post-Gatland, Wales have changed their style and were on top for most of this enthralling match - but Eddie Jones seems to have instilled a winning mentality into the English players. To watch the entire match in HD, look here. If it's just the highlights you want, look no further. (Extraits officiels en français):

Italy played host to Ireland in Rome on Saturday.. and the match turned into a 63-10 pointsfest for the men in green. Highlights here. (en français)

11th February. Farewell Joost van der Westhuizen.. a giant of Springbok and world rugby, regardless of era, who passed away on 6th February. He re-invented scrum-half play in his own fashion - athletic, never say die, a fierce competitor in both attack and defence, totally committed and a feared and respected opponent. A great loss at such an early age.

Joost van der Westhuizen, 1971-2017
9th February. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Scotland emerge victorious from their encounter with France in Paris on Sunday afternoon. They've been playing some fiery rugby and they look as though they're all singing from the same hymn sheet. They have some classy players and I think they'll do well against a French side that is slowly rebuilding.

6th February. For an update on that François Fillon story, here's a report on the press conference he had earlier this afternoon. Read on here.

The streets of Bayonne are looking a bit bedraggled this morning after the violent weekend storms - the pavements were covered in twigs, branches, leaves and other detritus. Storms down here are pretty intense.

This was the sea at Biarritz yesterday as seen from the lighthouse:

5th February. What's going on? A few minutes ago in the early afternoon, another wall of water came rolling in from the sea.. along with thunder and lightning, hail and rain (as though from a fire hose!), not to mention the shrieking wind. I don't envy anyone on a boat/ship in the Bay of Biscay at the moment!

For once, I was woken up in the wee small hours last night by the sound of a major storm blowing through here. We had the lot - torrential rain, winds howling around the house, shutters rattling, the sound of storm water in the gutters. Then I went back to sleep!

Italy - Wales this afternoon!

4th February. Post match: Eddie Jones' England scraped home after a scruffy match with a narrow 19-16 win over a much-improved France under the likeable Guy Novès. Novès had selected a powerful and athletic set of players (Piano Shifters and Piano Players). In contrast, Eddie Jones was unable to field the Vunipola brothers, George Kruis, Chris Robshaw, Manu Tuilagi and Anthony Watson - all being unavailable due to injuries. The English forwards lacked conviction and as a result, England weren't winning enough ball at set pieces - plus, they looked rusty, short of oomph and they played like a team of strangers. In the closing few minutes Eddie Jones sent on Danny Care, Ben Te'o, Jack Nowell and James Haskell and the changes galvanised England - it was as though they'd switched to mains electricity after running on dud batteries for 70 of the 80 minutes - and Ben Te'o went over to seal the match with only a few minutes remaining. I think France will be feeling justifiably aggrieved at letting a Twickenham win slip through their fingers after having dominated the match for long periods. For England, it was their 15th consecutive win (a national record) under Eddie Jones - but it wasn't a pretty sight. This was winning ugly. France will win more matches than they'll lose if they continue to play like this.
I wonder how much of referee's Angus Gardner admonishments - delivered in Australian English - were understood by the French pack, particularly the front row. I could see some puzzled expressions among them yesterday. In the interests of fairness, perhaps it's time the IRFU provided referees who are bilingual. I think the respected Irish referee Alain Rolland was one of the very few (if not the only) international referees who were genuinely bilingual. If that's too difficult, how about introducing some codewords (along the lines of the ICAO phonetic alphabet) for specific instructions or penalties? With so many matches being decided by penalties, it's time to level the playing field.  

Well done Scotland! They upset the form book with a thrilling win over an Irish XV who looked curiously out of sorts. Resurgent Scotland played some beautiful flowing rugby with Stuart Hogg scoring a couple of cracking tries. This is how rugby should be played. Ireland came back in the second half but Scotland took the game with a 27-22 win. Hogg's place in the British and Irish Lions squad could be inked in now. He must be the Lions first choice full back.
Edited to add: good to see that the SRU has finally seen fit to play the "Black Bear" prior to the anthems..! Now all they need to do is ditch that maudling dirge "Flower of Scotland".

Today sees the most eagerly-awaited event of the year.. No, it's not the re-appearance of the boudin blanc at Montauzer's in Bayonne but it's the opening weekend of the 6 Nations Rugby Tournament. If you're new to this, the 6 Nations involved are - in alphabetical order - England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales.

The opening match should be a cracker - it sees Scotland taking on Ireland at Murrayfield. Ireland are widely tipped to win the tournament this year but I don't see them having an easy ride against a much-improved Scottish XV. Ireland are without their talismanic Johnny Sexton so anything could happen. Players to keep an eye on? Stuart Hogg for Scotland and Simon Zebo for Ireland. I think Ireland should just shade this one.

South of the border, last year's Grand Slam winners England host France in what promises to be a mouth-watering encounter. The anticipation can sometimes be greater than the performance as 2 great teams can nullify each other. However, two years ago the match unfolded in spectacular fashion:
Elsewhere, Wales travel to Italy for their opening match tomorrow. Italy will be pumped up this game so I think the scoreline will be pretty close. I'm going for a Welsh win but not by more than 10pts.

Here's an unusual stat for you: the 6 Nations tournament is set to be watched by the highest average attendance per match of any tournament in world sport. This is truly an astonishing statistic. To me, I rate it higher than the Olympics..

3rd February. We realised with a start a couple of days ago that it was 9 years to the day that we moved into the house. I was just thinking of how much work we'd had done in the house in that time.. In no particular order: double glazing, new more efficient electric radiators, roof re-tiled, new front door, new paths (back and front), 3 major trees taken down, hall and kitchen re-tiled, new kitchen and bathroom, exterior of the house repainted, garage doors replaced, garage rewired, new door to cellar, old fireplace replaced by wood-burning stove, a forced ventilation system (VMI) fitted - plus many more smaller jobs. Then there are those ongoing battles - like the lawn! (Won't bore you with the details) I know it's an old cliché that time seems to accelerate as we get older but the last nine years really have flown by. It certainly doesn't seem like nine years that we moved in the house with its pristine paintwork everywhere.      

Penelope and François Fillon
1st February. I wrote a few months ago that I thought François Fillon would be the next president of France. Well, recent events may have proved me wrong. It was alleged in the Canard Enchainé - a whistle-blowing satirical French newspaper - that Fillon's (Welsh) wife Penelope had been paid 900,000€ for what was claimed to be fictitious work and that furthermore, two of his five children (who were students at the time) had been employed as parliamentary assistants, earning another 84,000€. I would have thought, perhaps naïvely, that as the Fillons had both trained as lawyers that somewhere in the mix that we could have reasonably expected to find a spot of integrity. I should add that, so far, these are allegations and that maybe he has a satisfactory answer for this story. I must admit that at first I thought this was simply a well-timed smear story, released by someone with the intent of derailing the Fillon presidential campaign but I have to say that the omens aren't good for him. It would be interesting to know who put the Canard Enchainé onto this story. 

I think this might well see the end of his presidential ambitions. If so, it leaves the field wide open as the other candidates are, with one exception, something of a dog's breakfast. Representing the Parti socialiste is Benoît Hamon, and he's cut from the same cloth as the UK's Jeremy Corbyn - therefore unelectable in 2017.

The far right Front National will be represented by Marine Le Pen. It's difficult to judge the appeal that Mme Le Pen has for the voters - especially in the wake of the terrorist attacks. Even if she makes it through the first, I'm not convinced that she could win the second round.

At the moment, it's unclear who will be the candidate for Les Républicains - whether it might still yet be Fillon, or perhaps the septuagenarian Juppé will step forward and re-enter the fray. For those on the Right, Fillon now has a question mark over him - is he damaged irreparably? If Juppé stands, he'll be seen as a safe pair of hands perhaps by some, certainly - and by others as far too old and lacking in dynamism, especially at a time when France requires leadership. 

The one exception I referred to earlier is Emmanuel Macron. He is young (40 I believe) and he's relatively untainted by association with Président Hollande. He could well attract votes from those disaffected PS voters who feel let down by Hollande and who refuse to vote for the far Left Hamon. I think Macron must be well placed to make it through to the second round - and perhaps beyond. Here's he is in conversation with the BBC's Andrew Marr:
Macron is something of a wild card in the May election - and he's unencumbered either by a party or a manifesto. He's an énarque, a technocrat in the classic French mould and he's positioned himself in the centre of the political spectrum. Can he connect with the ordinary voter - enough for them to vote for him - that's one of the key questions.

Disturbingly for EU sceptics, he believes in more, not less, Europe. I read the other day that he is proposing that the EU adopts a common debt policy. This means that all members of the eurozone would be responsible for the debts incurred by member states. Have a think about the implications of that for a moment. Would I be happy about that if I were a German? I don't think so.

Another question to mull over stems from a legal phrase I once heard: "cui bono" - or, as we might say today - "To whose benefit?", or less politely: "follow the money". In other words, to find out who set this Fillon story running, we should look at who stands to gain the most from the revelation. I'll leave you to ponder that question. As Madame says - it's a panier de crabes! If you want to read more on the French political horror-show, look here and here:

With the French presidential elections this year as well as the German elections, I hope the outcome brings an end to the drift towards extreme politics. An extreme party requires another extreme party to oppose it - and we all remember what happened the last time this situation occurred.   

Meanwhile, in the UK, there is much hand-wringing among the usual suspects over the proposed State visit by President Trump to the UK. The figure below on the left is Jeremy Corbyn, who spent 30-odd years polishing the seat of his trousers on the back benches in Parliament before his surprise accession to the leadership of the Labour Party. He's a permanent member of the "awkward squad" (always outside the tent pi**ing in) and he's seen by many as unelectable. Thankfully.

The furore by the chatterati over the President Trump State visit is all meaningless froth in my opinion. Since when have we rejected, or even considered rejecting, a visit to the UK by the elected leader of the free world - and our chief ally? Sounds to me as though there are too many people with access to social media working themselves up to a self-righteous frenzy. Taking the dog for a walk would be a better option.   


Anonymous said...

In the UK the spouse working for the MP has lately been frowned on, but it only shows that if they do not 'do any work' then the MP does not need an assistant and there are no others that can be paid from this legitimate expenses pot.
The outing of what is always seen as a fiddle even when it is not has been a long running French way of life. Lesley

Pipérade said...

There promises to be further revelations on TV this evening - someone's dug up an old interview from 10 years ago where Mme Fillon says she never worked in support of her husband.
What a mess.. I have an uneasy feeling that Macron will soon be in the Elysée.

Anonymous said...

Your house sounds like Trigger's Broom! I hope you remember Only Fools and Horses - or should that be Houses? We have been installed since Jan 06 and the new stuff like the washing machine may be getting towards the end of their expected life. Lesley

Pipérade said...

I've got most of "Fools & Horses" on DVDs!☺ House ownership is like painting the Forth Bridge.. there's always something to do!

Anonymous said...

Perhaps it is just as well that Bayonne is 3hr and 260 kms away so that we are not tempted into Chocky Heaven.
The wine video refused to materialise, but we know how important that our, almost daily, tipple is. Lesley

Pipérade said...

Try scrolling down this link for that "Fil Rouge" video..
You should be able to launch it from here.
Yes, chocolate is a big deal here.. There must be around 10 specialist chocolate shops in town. The main ones - Casenave, Daranatz and Pariès and L'Atelier du Chocolat - are all to be found in rue Port Neuf.
All available online too!☺