Friday, 6 September 2019

271. September in the Pays basque

30th September. I was watching the TV coverage of the funeral of former President Jacques Chirac at Saint-Sulpice when I heard this sublime piano piece being played. It's Schubert's Impromptu Op.142 (D.935) No.2 in A flat Major - played here by Daniel Barenboim and I later learned that it was President Macron himself who had been inspired to select both the piece and Daniel Barenboim's interpretation of it. The same piece was repeated over the images of the hearse as it drove away through the eternal streets of Paris, preceded by a phalanx of police motorcyclists. Very moving.

An avuncular figure, Jacques Chirac was renowned for his love of France and her people, and to many here he epitomised all that was good about France and he was well-liked across the political spectrum. He was equally at home at the Elysée Palace or at the annual Salon International de l'Agriculture at the Paris expo Porte de Versailles where he clearly took great pleasure in many of the things that France is noted for - including two of my personal no-go areas: andouillette and tête de veau. On occasion he would stay at Biarritz and reportedly would walk down from his hotel (Le Miramar) to the Hotel du Palais for a gin and tonic. Thinking about it, I thought that he had much in common with that great American president Ronald Reagan. 
Jacques Chirac 1932 - 2019
Schubert is a composer whose works I've completely overlooked. Here's Vladimir Horowitz with Schubert's Impromptu in G flat Op. 90 No. 3..
29th September. It was a beautiful September morning here in the Pays Basque and where better to spend it than at the Bleu Café, Biarritz contemplating the endless Atlantic breakers. A silvery mist hung over the town this morning and it seemed to add sparkle to the scene:

28th September. In mid-August, we had a break in the stunning Ossau valley.. to the south east of here. Take a look at these images of this majestic landscape which is off the tourist trail. Robert Frost summed it up best:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Last December we were in Bordeaux in connection with my application for French citizenship (which came through by the way) and we stopped for lunch at Ragazzi da Peppone - one of the most authentic Italian restaurants I've been in. I noticed the other day that a branch has opened in Bayonne and if it's anything like its parent restaurant up at Bordeaux, we'll soon be regulars! Here are some reviews..

27th September. Time for a bit of Django..

26th September. In the 2019 Rugby World Cup being held in Japan, England played the USA in what turned out to be a mighty physical clash.. There was much "beef on the hoof" on show from both sides and there were more than a few ground-shuddering tackles that must have registered on a Richter scale somewhere. 

Piers Francis (Eng) was cited after the match for a high tackle on Will Hooley in the opening seconds that left the American full-back concussed. Meanwhile John Quill (USA) was sent off later on the game for a high tackle on Owen Farrell. 

England ran out convincing winners and I think they were fortunate to emerge unscathed. They're still making more handling errors than they should (said he from his armchair) but in their defence the ball was clearly slippery. They put some excellent moves together that, with a bit more assuredness, would have resulted in a bigger scoreline. But - let's not be greedy - this was a good win against a powerful American side. 
Here's a beautiful early morning shot of Bayonne looking south towards the misty Pyrenees.. showing the confluence of the Nive in the centre with the mighty Adour flowing from the left towards the open sea. The boat (right) soaking up the sunshine is a floating restaurant (still on our "to do" list after 12 years) with the colonnaded Town Hall behind it. Click to enlarge!
Sorry to have left the blog on the back burner for the past few weeks - but I've been very busy in the aftermath of the recent commemorative Comète weekend - so, like the mayor of Pompeii in 79AD, I'm waiting for the dust to settle. Innumerable emails in and out, photographs to gather and videos to piece together - plus I've got a symposium coming up in October on the subject of escape/evasion lines in and around the Pyrenees.. and much preparation work is required for that.
7th September. Nutty (our cocker spaniel) has discovered a small colony of lizards in the garden and he's become obsessed with trying to catch them. They lie immobile on our hot pebbled paths soaking up the heat only to take off in a frenzied blur when he charges up at them. He's way off the mark but that doesn't stop him in his latest obsession.

There was a letter in today's Daily Telegraph that caught my eye:

SIR – What country in its right mind would want to leave the world’s largest trading bloc and risk financial ruin by going it alone without a deal? What country, attempting to hold together a union of disparate political entities, would risk that union when many of its inhabitants do not support the break-up in the first place? What country’s leaders would be prepared to take a reckless leap into the unknown in the illusory hope of a brighter, more prosperous future, free from outside interference?
The answer, of course, is the United States in 1776.
They must have been insane.
Nicholas Young

London W13

6th September. Life has been increasingly hectic here with the imminent approach of one of the highlights of the year - yes, it's time for the annual commemorative Comet Line weekend in the Pays basque that will take place 13th - 15th September.. I've been busy translating innumerable speeches and preparing this, that and the other.

In the meantime, here's a long programme that features some of the most beautiful squares in Paris. If the commentary is distracting, just turn the volume down a tad. One particular favourite of ours is the Place des Vosges. If you want to go there directly, start at 23.47..

The square makes a defining statement about the French love of control of Nature, of planned formality, of "statement" architecture, of order and precision - and, in my view, a fundamental distrust of anything that looks unplanned by the hand of Man. In a nation sometimes seen as unruly and indisciplined, this square reveals and underlines a fundamental contradiction in the French character - a desire for order and symmetry in a disorderly and asymmetric world. This may be one of the reasons why they consistently fail to understand the occasional anarchic shenanigans of British politics! (like the rest of us then!)

We like the Place des Vosges for personal, entirely different, reasons! It's a fascinating place to walk around under the colonnaded arches - I'm not the world's best shopper by any means but there are some individual shops, galleries, restaurants and cafés there that repay closer inspection. Once there, there's a sense that you're in an oasis of calm. The centre of the square is formal - but despite that, it's one of our favourite places - and it's an ideal spot to ask someone a question. Enough. As the presenter rightly says, it's a place that's easy to overlook if you don't know it's there. See what you think:
1st September. If there's a month in which to visit the Pays basque and experience it at its very best - it's September. I realise I could be pushing my luck saying this but the weather is generally stable with average temperatures of 25°C; the sea is still warm; those seasonal visitors with children of school age have returned home - and finding a parking space in the same time zone as the place you are visiting becomes possible - maybe!