Tuesday, 4 April 2017

241. April showers in the Basque Country

2nd May. We're back after a few days away visiting A-M, an old friend who has a house at Le Montat, just outside Cahors (capital of the Lot department). A-M and Madame taught French together at a school in England and she now divides her time between her ancestral home at Le Montat and a small town in the West Midlands in England - and it would be difficult to imagine two places that had less in common than these two. Le Montat would have been a comfortable 4 hour drive (virtually all autoroute) from Bayonne, if we'd driven there non-stop.

Le Montat is situated in what's known as la France profonde.. which means that the pace of life is delightfully slow and blissfully tranquil. La France profonde has been defined as a rural area of France that has preserved its authenticity, where time is not a rushing river but a meandering brook. Her house (above) dates back to the 18th century and it's full of character. In the garden, there was no sound except the distant puttering of a light aircraft a few miles away as it towed a glider up into the sky. A-M has two brothers - J-R and B - and they both have houses in the village. It's hard for someone raised in suburban England to imagine the enduring pull of family roots that have locked successive generations of the same family into one small village. Walking around the honey-coloured village with A-M, every house had a story to tell and every passing car (not that there were many!) gave us a friendly wave and exchanged a quick word with her.

On Saturday evening, the plan was that we were going to take a dinner that A-M had prepared to J-R's house. We loaded a large casserole (containing her aromatic chicken dish) and a few other intriguing bags into her car and we drove the few yards to his house. A large wood-burning stove was doing a good job of warming the house while we unloaded the meal in the kitchen: corks were extracted from bottles of wine, bread was cut and once everything organised, there was the 'pop' of a champagne cork and seconds later a mother and daughter (with good hearing!) from the village arrived to make up the six-some. At the table, there was asparagus, the chicken dish (mmm!), some Basque cheese and a gateau basque.. all of which was eased down with the help of some Irouléguy and a fine bottle of Pomerol.. (la vie est dure!) A wonderful evening.

Here's a picture that should help you to orientate yourself as to where wines I've mentioned often here - such as Irouléguy, Jurançon, Madiran - stem from. I used to drink Gaillac in England but unfortunately Madame's not wild about it. Tursan is another one. Cahors is an inky black full-bodied wine that we don't see too often here. Very drinkable.

I woke up on Sunday morning after a brief but satisfying coma, and stepped outside to savour the silence. The plan was to visit a nearby village for lunch and so with about an hour to go before lunchtime, the four of us headed off into the countryside (past endless rows of the Malbec grape vines that were destined for the famous 'black wine' of Cahors) to Saint-Cirq Lapopie, one of the most beautiful villages in France. J-R was kind enough to volunteer to do the driving, thus releasing me to enjoy the countryside as it passed by.

This medieval village in pale stone would clearly be a tourist honey pot during the prime summer months but on that Sunday we were able to park the car next to our destination - Lou Pastis Quercynois.. (try saying that while eating a Cornish pasty!). We found a table outside overlooking the village (right) and we started off with a copieux (as they say here) serving of terrine de foie gras on toast..
I have to say more courses followed but we'll draw a veil over those.. otherwise you'll be salivating on your keyboards. (website here)

We burnt off some of this superb lunch by waddling around the narrow winding streets of this magnificently preserved medieval village.
A village house being restored
J-R took us next to Cahors where he gave us a guided tour by car (as it was threatening to rain) through the ancient streets before we finished up at the Pont Valentré, a 14th century six span stone bridge across the Lot river. We walked across it while J-R drove around to meet us on the other side. By any measure, this was a stunning technical achievement for the time. Construction started in 1308 and it was opened in 1350.

Sadly, our weekend was over all too soon and we said our fond farewells and headed back home on Monday morning. This is an area I'd like to explore further.

More on Cahors and its surroundings here:
Here's Jean-Luc Petitrenaud, the travelling TV gastronome, with one of his weekly programmes on France 5 that explore the gastronomic delights of France. In this episode, he investigates Cahors. (here's Le Balandre, featured in the programme) Don't worry if your French is not up to speed - sit back and let your eyes do the work:

This made me smile: I was listening to a phone-in radio programme on the BBC this afternoon while making myself a coffee and the presenter took a call from a man who had the following question:

"Where should I stand in the kitchen so that I won't be in the way..!"

It still makes me laugh now about 5 hours later..

Two stray neurons must have collided in my brain because I was suddenly reminded of Franco - the ever-smiling polyglot receptionist (5 languages and counting) on the night desk at the hotel when I was based in Pordenone, in northern Italy during the Balkans unpleasantness in the 1990s. He'd make me a much-needed double espresso (aka a heart-starter) at 2.30am and we'd chat while I was waiting for the rest of the crew to show up for an early flight. One of his favourite sayings was: "La vie est dure, et les femmes coûtent chères et les enfants sont facile à faire.."* and it never failed to put a smile on my face - even at 2.30am!

* Life is hard, wives are expensive and children are easy to make.

29th April. A new word for my reader(s): a quockerwodger - I'm sure you can think of a politician who fits the description without needing any help from me.
21st April. An "unknown ancient reptile roamed the Pyrenees" is a headline from the BBC's news page. You could be excused for thinking that they're talking about a rare sighting of DSK.. but no, the bruised Dominique Strauss-Kahn has been maintaining a suitably reptilian low profile - but it seems that's not low enough for even Hollywood to ignore. There's a film proposed on his travails.. but as yet, no director or cast have been identified. I would think this film would slither easily into the "Wouldn't touch it with a bargepole" category, no matter how much you pay anyone. Wait for: "How much? Where do I sign..?"

17th April. Sorry for the hiatus here.. Both of us have been suffering from an odd cough that refuses to go away. There's a suspicion that it might be pollen related. We've been gulping down the antibiotics, cough mixture, inhalers et al but to no avail. The antibiotics are doing a great job of sending us to sleep in the afternoons. I'll be glad when we're free of it. We've also had to cancel a holiday in Croatia we'd booked in May - due to other factors. All in all, not a good start to the year.  

8th April. It's all set for a steamy weekend here according to the forecast: 27° for today and tomorrow (80°F). This means eating out on the terrace at midday and possibly again in the evening. The downside? The dreaded shorts might have to be brought out!☺

2nd April. This morning, Madame was putting together a little treat for Sunday lunch - blanquette de veau - which admittedly is a bit of a time-consuming dish to make, and so I was released to go for some fresh air along the boardwalk at Anglet. On arrival, I found it was busy with all manner of joggers, sportifs, waddlers and stumblers (your guess as to which category I fit into).

We'd had a blowy day yesterday and this morning a gusty wind was blowing out of the north west over an agitated sea. However, the sky looked clear of rain and so I set off southwards on a brisk 30 minute walk to Le Rayon Vert, a beachside café, just to the north of Biarritz. Once there, I didn't hang about as one or two grey clouds had appeared on the western horizon. I turned around and headed back to the car while keeping a watchful eye on the low grey rain clouds that had formed up out over the sea.  It wasn't long - no more than about 10 minutes - before I felt the first drops of rain. Despite thinking "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead" - within 5 minutes I was completely wet through - as in drenched. Was I glad to see the car!

Blanquette de veau
Once home, I stood dripping in the hall, my nose twitching with the wine-rich smells drifting out of the kitchen. A couple of minutes later, I had dry clothes on and I was enjoying an eyes-closed moment as I inhaled the steamy aromas rising off the blanquette de veau (left) that Madame had set in front of me. I poured two glasses of Haut-Médoc and set to work. I love Sundays!
We were looking at electric bikes the other day. at Newteon, Anglet - they had a good range of electric bikes available to buy or hire. (Map here) Madame hasn't been well lately and she wants to get out on her bike again but I think she'll need some assistance - so possibly an electric bike will be the answer. (by the way - that's Bayonne from 0:43 to 1:00). We'll probably rent a couple for the day to see how she gets on with one. (Pedego Biarritz here)