Wednesday, 1 March 2017

240. Spring in the French Basque Country

31st March. Here's some more of that gypsy music that I like listening to:

Café Bleu
It was like summer here yesterday - 27° - I dusted off a pair of shorts for the first time this year and we enjoyed lunch out on the terrace. This is more like it! The palm trees down the garden have pushed out pods which have burst out into yellow blossom (left) and the maple is suddenly red with leaves. A couple of pairs of blue tits have discovered the bird feeder and the feed level seems to be going down steadily. We went for a stroll around Biarritz later on and had a coffee at the Café Bleu that overlooks the Grande Plage. The beach was well populated with people trying acquire that first tan. Very pleasant and borderline hypnotic watching the waves!

29th March. Ignoring all the political chatter this morning, it must be noted that Spring has arrived here with a bang.. (a term to be used advisedly in the Basque Country!) We were out and about in the car yesterday and in a week, the countryside has turned green..

27th March. When the British government activates Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon on Wednesday 29th March, it will start a process that will enable the departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union. All I can say is - at last! No doubt there will be some who confuse my view with being "anti-Europe". Far from it. I think Europe contains more cultural riches of the human story per square kilometer than any other surface in the world. It was from this soil that civilised society grew and flourished. It was from here that many of the fruits of Western civilisation first appeared. Its culture remains the reference for modern day Western culture. 

However, the political expression of Europe's identity - the European Union - leaves much to be desired in my view. I won't delve deeply into the arguments here but suffice to say the 'democratic deficit' lies at the heart of my concerns. Millions died in the twentieth century to preserve democracy and yet somehow the UK, with its proud democratic parliamentarian history and love of freedom stretching back hundreds of years, allowed itself to become embedded in a profoundly undemocratic political construct. No doubt there will be a price to be exacted from the UK for leaving the EU. To me and many others like me, regaining our sovereignty is paramount. I look forward to the next few years.   

25th March. How many of you have tasted Saint-Pierre (or John Dory - more here on its origins)? In the opinion of your scribe, it's one of the finest of all sea fish. It's expensive in restaurants - because it's an expensive fish to buy. However, earlier today we went to the Leclerc supermarket at Urrugne and I was surprised at the extent, range and quality of the fish and seafood on display. My eyes lit upon a display of pale golden Saint-Pierre and out of curiosity I checked the price.. it was only 11 euros and something a kilo! In contrast, the price at our local fishmonger is usually somewhere between 25-28€/kg. In fact, many of the prices were significantly lower than we're accustomed to paying in Bayonne, no doubt due to the proximity of the fish market (known as La Criée) at Ciboure (1km away). We bought one and enjoyed it with a beurre citronnée sauce.

So, if you intend visiting here and wish to take advantage of the above, this self-explanatory video (no sound) shows how to fillet a Saint-Pierre:

However, if you don't feel like getting "up close and personal" with a Saint-Pierre (as above), then the Saint-Pierre at Chez Pantxua at Socoa is highly recommended. (Needless to say, I have no connection with Leclerc or Chez Pantxua other than as a satisfied customer).

24th March. British journalist Andrew Neil spoke out yesterday in the wake of the terror attack in London that saw the death - among others - of Police Constable Keith Palmer. 
PC Keith Palmer
In a moving tribute (video here) to PC Keith Palmer, he said: 
Keith Palmer had been a copper for 15 years, a husband, a dad, brother, uncle, public servant. Before joining the police, he’d been in the army, defending our nation. Yesterday he was murdered defending our democracy, defending the very heart of our democracy from a barbarian at the gate. Just doing his duty, reminding us of something we badly needed reminding of, that the most important people in this country are not the rich, the powerful, the famous but those who run to confront the enemies of our civilisation while the rest of us are running away. First responders like PC Palmer. Brutally stabbed to death by a jumped-up jihadi, not fit to breathe the same air as the man he killed. 
Now I know there are still some ‘Jihadi Johnnies’ out there who think they will eventually triumph because their love of death is greater than our love of life. Do you have any idea who you’re dealing with? This is the country that stood up alone to the might of the Luftwaffe, air force of the greatest evil mankind has ever known. If you think we’re going to be cowed by some pathetic, Poundland terrorist in an estate car with a knife, then you’re as delusional as you are malevolent. Yes, you have the power to hurt us. Sometimes the hurt is more than we can bear - but you cannot defeat us. Because for every brainwashed, brain dead Islamist you send to do us harm, we have thousands upon thousands of Keith Palmers. You find them in every walk of life and in every part of the land, they come in all shapes, all sizes, all colours, all faiths. They are the British people and against them you will never prevail.
Well said Andrew.

23rd March. This is the time of the year when the temperature fluctuates. The other day we had 25°. Tomorrow? The forecast is for 3°.

21st March.  Here's something else that's guaranteed to brighten up your day!

20th March. I'm afraid no words are possible to describe "Intro Outro" - by the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band - except to say it always put a smile on my face. See what you think:
Looking at my desk, it's clear that I must be keeping the makers of Post-Its in business. I think moths have been at my short term memory. I'll be downstairs and think of something I need to google on my PC upstairs.. In the time between having that thought and finding myself sitting before the flickering screen, I often find that the inspiration for the trip upstairs has evaporated. It must be the stairs!☺ The worst are those stairs with a landing half-way up. Pause for a second, and you can't remember whether you were on the way up or.. Perhaps a high speed chair lift is the answer - to get me to the top before I've forgotten what I came up for! So now, we (OK, I) keep a block of Post-Its in the kitchen to make a note of that transient thought.

I believe goldfish have the same problem. It's claimed that they have a 5 second memory. Anything that happens longer than 5 seconds ago is deleted. Life must be hard for them swimming around the goldfish bowls - each time they come across that bridge, they must think "What's that??"

19th March. I read this morning that Chuck Berry had passed away.. A real original and the true father of rock 'n roll. I was lucky enough to have seen his live show in the sixties and that memory will live long with me. His obituary here.

In addition to the seemingly endless list of rock 'n roll standards he wrote, he also made famous his "Duck Walk" (right).. and crystallised teenage angst (before we knew we had any). His guitar playing had that distinctive driving rhythm and he could make it conjure up the lonely wail of a freight train siren as it thundered through the night across a darkened prairie. A true giant who didn't owe anything to anybody. Thanks for the memories. RIP Chuck. 
And this was in 1958..!

One of Chuck's songs featured memorably in "Pulp Fiction":

18th March. Another video for you that shows why the Pays Basque is gaining in popularity.. I'll watch it in slow time after this afternoon's rugby marathon has finished! It's the last weekend of the Six Nations - and England have everything to play for in Dublin.. 
La Concha
16th March. The forecast was for a sunny day here so we decided to go to San Sebastian. It's always a pleasure to go there - it has real style. The pavements are wide, there's no shortage of shade when it sizzles and there are some cafés worth visiting - plus there's La Concha, an almost circular bay with its golden crescent of sand to contemplate should you feel the need. It has more than its share of individual shops where it's possible to find unique designs. I've long admired the stylish apartment blocks in San Sebastian and I finally got around to taking a picture of one in the centre of town - and yes, that's a blue cloudless sky.. According to the car, it was 25° and what a pleasure it was to feel the sun on our backs again. Take a look at San Sebastian for yourself here.

14th March. I've finally started the process of requesting dual nationality. Why? When I look at the political pygmies (you know who I mean!) who straddle world stage today, I wouldn't put it past any of them not to make life more difficult than it need be for those of us who live in the EU in somewhere other than their country of birth.

One of the first delights I encountered was a requirement for me to attach a UK Criminal Record Certificate (CRC) along with my application, testifying to all and sundry that I'm a model of sobriety and an all-round good egg. The software gurus who designed the CRC application form have, in their wisdom, made it impossible to save it - to enable it to be completed in stages. Plus - once I started completing the online form, it wasn't possible to go back to the page of instructions - and the lengthy form had to be completed within 60 minutes, with all the scanned material attached, otherwise all the data on it would be deleted. Nice touch!

So there I was - having dutifully assembled all the required documentation as briefed - scanned passport photos, two scanned proofs of address and other supporting (scanned) documents - and I clicked the website to start completing the form. The first shudder was caused by the fact that straightaway I was asked for information that hadn't been called for in the instructions on the previous page (aarrgghh!) - including various key identifiers that should have pinned me down uniquely, such as my UK National Insurance number. You might be excused for thinking that this alone would have been enough - but oh no - I also had to state my UK Drivers Licence number - despite the fact I no longer have one. This had me dashing around the house frantically opening drawers and cupboards - before I could lay my hands on my old tatty out-of-date one. Perhaps UK government agencies aren't as joined up as we sometimes might believe. I won't bore you with any more of this but it was one of the most stressful 60 minutes I've had recently.

The CRC is but one of the many pieces of paper required by the French authorities. A whole host of assorted documentation is required for the process - all of which has to be translated by a sworn translator (ker-ching!)

Soon* though, if all goes well, I'll be in possession of a French passport and I too will be able to stop anywhere for an al fresco pee.. or go sailing blithely around roundabouts while indicating with my windscreen wipers. (oh yes, and be able to vote!) I found out by chance a few years ago that I will lose my vote in the UK once I've lived outside the country for 15 years - despite the fact that I pay my income tax there. (Remember "no taxation without representation"?)
* Soon = <12months!

However, I don't anticipate that, even with a French passport in my sticky mitts, I'll ever be able to enjoy a steaming plate of tête de veau or andouillette. While I have to confess to enjoying frogs legs, I doubt if I'll ever be hungry enough to eat a snail! I'll always support England come the Six Nations rugby. A French passport will simply provide me with an additional "belt 'n braces" layer of security regarding my stay here.

12th March. If, like me, you never tire of walking in (or simply looking at) the more remote parts of the Pays Basque, then you'll enjoy these two films.

More here:

11th March. Look away now if you're not a fan of England rugby.. They demolished (there's no other word for it) Scotland today 61-21 in the 4th round of the RBS 6 Nations rugby tournament.. A match that some commentators thought beforehand (in their dreams) might go Scotland's way. This was the first time this year that England really clicked - and they were scoring tries at will. I've long been a fan of Scottish rugby but today it was no contest. England - sending Scotsmen homewards tae think again since 1983. To be fair to Scotland, they lost their likeable and influential playmaker Greig Laidlaw a couple of weeks ago and today they lost their dangerous full back Stuart Hogg through a head injury. But - these things happen in rugby. England were without 4 key forwards at the start of the 6 Nations campaign and they're still without Chris Robshaw and George Kruis.

It's a pity that Vern Cotter is nearing the end of his contract - he's made Scotland into a much more potent attacking force - but sadly, for those north of the border, not today.

I read somewhere this morning that "Life's too short to drink cheap wine" and I suddenly thought, you know, the man has a point. Old habits die hard - I've usually bought wine in the past that sits somewhere between wine that makes you grit your teeth when you buy it and wine that makes you clench your teeth when you drink it.. In real terms, in France that means I've been paying between 5€ to 10€ a bottle. The trouble is that wine money is different to whisky money. I could, without much effort (not that I do), drink a bottle of wine in one swell foop, oops, I mean in one fell swoop. Whereas a bottle of Scotch gives me more pleasure for longer. Where is my money better invested? I've always tended towards buying better whisky. I think the person who came up with that maxim though about cheap wine did hit upon a truth though. I'll have to stop buying wine from the bottom shelf!

9th March. We went out to Chez Pantxua at Socoa for lunch today. Our waitress asked us where our cocker was..(she always made a fuss of him) and so she heard the sad story of what happened to the poor lad. She took our order and minutes later, she returned with a couple of complimentary sangrias and some nibbles. We've known her for a good few years and her kind gesture was greatly appreciated.

We sat outside under a blue sky in the sunshine and enjoyed a whole sea bass between us, eased down with the aid of some Jurançon Sec.. We opened the roof of the car on the way home and watched as the temperature crept up to 20°..

The temperature is slowing creeping up here - the forecast is for 19° today. I'd better start dubbining my legs in preparation for their annual re-appearance under a pair of ex-8th Army "Desert Rat" shorts..

8th March. That Emmanuel Macron is being talked up as a serious contender for the Presidency is worrying.. I fail to understand how any thinking person can seriously consider voting for Macron and at the same time say ".. quite what he will bring is unclear."? (quote from a newspaper) We've just lived through 5 years of a do-nothing, lack-lustre president - in my view we need 5 years of a Macron Magical Mystery Tour like a hole in the head..

Summer's on its way! This morning, I spotted a couple of camping cars (camper vans in English) with number plates from northern Europe making their way through town, each towing a small trailer with a motorbike. I wonder how many retirees are in motion on the roads in Europe? Plus those who wander the Mediterranean footloose and fancy free in their yachts? Very tempting!

Further to the ongoing Fillon story, we were watching the news last night and I said to Madame that now Juppé declared his intention not to be considered a presidential candidate, it won't surely be long before someone digs up some more dirt on Fillon. I had less than a minute to wait..! The next news item was a story that, according to Le Canard Enchaîné, Fillon had received a loan of 50,000€ from someone. And so it continues..

7th March. Another short film for you that shows a slice of life in the Pays Basque:

Plus this week's special offer:
6th March. In yet another twist in the panier des crabes (the literal translation makes it clear: a basket of crabs) that's French politics, Alain Juppé has decided that he should not be considered a candidate for the Right in the event that François Fillon were to step down. I don't think Juppé has the stomach for what would inevitably be a bruising campaign for him - the media would dig deep into his personal life and, if he lost the election (which would be likely), he would have to suffer months of media speculation, intrusion and attacks for nothing. His decision eases the "do I stay or do I go" dilemma for Fillon as the Right now has no alternative candidate to fall back on. I think there will be more twists to come in this story.   

The main candidates are now (from Left to Right): Benoît Hamon, Emmanuel Macron, François Fillon and Marine Le Pen.

5th March. Having decided that my PC was long overdue its spring clean, I started deleting all the rubbish that I've allowed to accumulate on my desktop.. In doing so, I came across this (right). I apologise if I've posted it before - but it caused a wry smile to appear briefly on my wizened features! (click to enlarge it)

I was driving along the Adour this blowy morning while out to buy a baguette, and I noticed the river was very high (it's tidal here) so I carried on down to the coast to take a look at the sea. Getting out of the car at the Plage des Cavaliers, I was struck by the deafening roar coming up from the beach.. What a sight..! The sea was breaking high up the beach and the first 50-100 yards was all seething white foam, with a confused mass of waves breaking in different directions. Rain-laden grey clouds were scudding low overhead and so I didn't stay there long as there were intermittent showers. (photos here) My old dog would not have been tempted to stay a while either - he'd have stood there with his ears horizontal.. sniffing the air.. before trotting back to the warm car and home. He liked his comfort..

4th March. A blustery start to the day with sudden, quick showers blowing through from the sea - it's known in French as a giboulée.. (another word to let loose when it all goes quiet in the snug!)

Here's a film I found that focuses on the Basque coast - orientated towards the 'beautiful people'! For me, the interior of the Pays Basque is equally attractive, especially up in the foothills of the Pyrenees. It's in French - but there are some nice images here:
We have a few palm trees down the bottom of the garden. My knowledge of things horticultural is exhausted once I've called them 'palm trees'. A quick google tells me that ours have fan-shaped leaves or foliage (take your pick). There's also a much bigger one in the front garden that must be between 40-50 feet high. Every so often we have to call in someone to cut back the dead fronds - he scrambles up the swaying tree (with no safety net) like a rat up a drainpipe - as the saying goes. I tried it myself once and got halfway up before deciding discretion was the better part of the Accident & Emergency Unit. The ones in the back garden are only about 15-18 feet high.. and I spent some time yesterday cutting back the leaves there. They're attached to the tree by a sturdy stalk (known as a petiole) about 4-6 feet long. Rather than give you a thousand words, here's a picture. I think Trachycarpus Fortunei - or Chinese Windmill Palm - is its correct name:

3rd March. The French media has seized upon the Fillon story with great relish as it involves a politician from the Right - something that always guarantees a feeding frenzy by the Left-dominated media. Politologues (what a word) are heavily and endlessly involved on TV with the décryptage (another mot du jour) of the story as it unfolds. The focus on Fillon means that the other candidates for the presidency are left untouched, while the major player in French politics - ScooterMan - remains in the Elysee doing President impressions.

1st March. This was always a favourite for a late night stumble around the dance floor:
The attempted political assassination of François Fillon is coming to the boil. The carefully orchestrated timing of this murky attempt to discredit a political opponent reveals the depths to which some will go to win an election. Whoever is behind it, this action is completely unworthy of a modern Western European democracy in 2017. Remember: Cui bono.  

I'm starting to fear for the UK in the negotiating process with the EU that will start once Article 50 has been triggered. One of the issues that could affect me directly is the question of UK citizens living in the EU. I was astonished to read this morning that a cross-party amendment in the House of Lords (where the government does not have a majority) to guarantee - in advance of negotiations - the position of EU citizens living in the UK is expected to secure the backing of most peers. However, it is expected that the Commons will reject this amendment. Ye gods. This is surely one of the key negotiating cards and it makes me question the sanity of those gentle, well-meaning, but hardly worldly-wise folk in the House of Lords. If this amendment was to be accepted in the Commons, the offer would be swallowed in one quick gulp by EU negotiators with no quid pro quo. Why on earth would anyone turn a valuable negotiating card face up on the table before the talks have even started? More here. And according to this report, the negotiations won't start until the UK has paid a 60bn€ exit bill. Time to start investigating dual nationality I think. (Procedure here in English for others who may be thinking of doing likewise. Here's the official French site).

The title of this post* is a fragment recalled from Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind" - those long hours spent in dusty English classrooms were not, as I thought at the time, entirely wasted.

* I'd originally called this post "Can Spring be far behind?" - but I changed it to something banal.


Anonymous said...

I like the look of the Fillon logo and of the three prefer it on a tee shirt. But it's probably got more to do with it being a stylized "F" in blue white and red that is the same as our surname and France.
Hamon has not got into merchandizing....yet. Lesley

Pipérade said...

It's funny - we were just watching the evening news and I said to Madame now that the way ahead looks clearer for Fillon, it's just a matter of time before 'someone' digs up some more dirt on him. A couple of minutes later, it was announced that Le Canard Enchaine that Fillon had received a 50,000€ loan from a businessman..

Anonymous said...

You can understand why Juppe has decided not to run, even with a clear history, who in their right mind would put themselves and their family through such extreme investigation. Lesley

Pipérade said...

I watched Fillon being interviewed the other night on France2 by Laurent "I love me" Delahousse. LD wore a look of almost contemptuous disbelief on his face throughout. Someone needs to remind him that he's just a newsreader - not judge and jury all rolled into one.
Juppé has some 'previous' (as they say in the Met) and no doubt his character would have been dissected minutely on national TV. Who needs that? I think it saved his bacon. A smart move by the Republicans.

Anonymous said...

I am damned if I will be frightenened into not being British (English) by all this hullabaloo. However, best of luck to you and I can only hope that you may think that your two (?) votes may count into the great mix of the French system that is democracy - as much as it counts in the UK! I mean this most sincerely. Lesley

Pipérade said...

It's not an "either or" - it's dual nationality. It's really just a belts and braces measure just in case marine Le Pen is elected and to cover any shenanigans from the EU. Being married to a "française" my position is secure.. but I just want to make sure.

Anonymous said...

Roy Rogers on Trigger ! Loved that. On a roll with the twisting L & H then the 'real thing' with Pulp Fiction - again. I thank you. Lesley

Pipérade said...

I'm sure I remember that it used to be "Harold Wilson on the fiddle" in that Bonzo song..