Monday, 22 December 2008

lang may yer lum reek

Well, Christmas already, that arrived like a bolt, off back to Ecosse to see the family... The blog is almost two months young and despite having only told a handful of folks about it it's somehow had almost 500 visitors, many thanks all!

A summary of the salient points from the last two months:

- Basque is unique
- peope are unbelievably friendly and proud of their heritage
- rugby and cesta punta are religions
- ceremony is important, they even celebrate the Dead in these parts
- there seem to be a billion fetes and feasts, and bulls get short thrift
- Louis VIX got married here, pirates lived here, Ravel was born here
- 007 in French is odd
- flamenco dancing is for real men
- nature is more powerful than we recognise
- working hours are relaxed and striking is a social pastime
- gateau Basque and hot chocolate are awesome
- big waves mean big surfing
- seafood is plentiful and fresh, food is a serious business
- the health service works and banks try to help
- being betwixt the Pyrenees and Atlantic means weird weather (mostly sun!)
- nothing beats spending a day in a cafe drinking coffee and chatting idly
- tradition and respect still exist, and Christmas has not been spoilt by commercialism

Happy Christmas! :: Zorionak eta urte berri on!

...we have prolonged our stay in the homeland, Santa becomes more expert the older he gets, have a happy Hogmanay!

Sunday, 21 December 2008

aliens and carols

Noting that today was the shortest day of the year it was the first time I have really appreciated how late the light remains down here. It is half six just now and the sun has just finished setting behind the mountains (this photo was taken 5 mins ago). After a delicious lunch of veal escalopes in lemon we headed out to a carol concert in the church. It was conducted entirely in Basque and it was lovely to hear carols sung in this tongue. Afterwards we partook in a spot of promenading. It was very busy being the first weekend of the Christmas holidays as people dashed, as much as people down here dash, around the shops purchasing gifts for their loved ones. The people we have spoken told us that they only tend to start their Christmas shopping on the first weekend of the holidays.

The Parisians are back in town and we both felt that our home town was being invaded. I guess that is a bit like pot calling kettle black but we have gradually felt we have become part of the local town so having so many more people walking around felt strange, goodness knows how it will feel in August. Many Parisians have second homes here, St Jean de Luz being a very Gucci town, and the population probably more than doubles when the out-of-towners arrive.

Basque of the day:- foreign :: atzerritar

Saturday, 20 December 2008

swimming and donkeys

The sun was back with a gusto today. Walking past the historic church, Ste. Jean de Baptiste, today we had an odd experience. Seemingly from within the sacred walls came the rocky tones of Eric Clapton. It turns out that in preparation for Christmas, numerous loudspeakers have been set up around town to provide the festive shoppers with background music.
This afternoon ventured onto the beach for the first time in a while and both made it into the sea! Not exactly warm (11C) but not numbingly cold either (don't tell Mrs W about this photo please!). We noticed a couple of others who were braving the water but appeared to have the luxury of a changing room. After speaking to them we have now joined, for the mammoth fee of EUR15 p.a., their local beach club that has changing facilities, showers and toilets nestled beneath the esplanade on the beach. They also meet daily throughout the year for a dip followed by drinks, very civilised.
St Jean de Luz officially opened the town for Christmas this evening. Imagine that, a town in the C21st that only starts to celebrate Christmas on the 20th December, so refreshing! Groups of Basque men wandered around dressed in the local costume accompanied by accordionists who roused them into song at the merest drop of a roasted chestnut. The crib we saw being constructed in one of the squares yesterday was also in full swing. Rather than the more recognised fat bloke dressed in red with a rubbish stick-on beard the crib was a backdrop for local children who acted out the nativity, complete with real cows, sheep and donkeys, fabulous!
Basque of the day:- nativity scene :: jaiotza

Friday, 19 December 2008

spinning, driving and fishing

Following yesterday's entry I discovered today that President Sarkozy has ordered proposed education reforms be 'postponed' so as to avoid a Greek-style backlash. We await to hear the response from the pupils' unions. Yes, that is correct, the pupils have their own union, I'd love to hear Ed Balls' view on that...

Christmas shopping today. I took in three cities as I searched for Mrs W's gift: Biarritz, Bayonne and Dax, finally sourcing what I was after in the third. I hope she appreciates the effort! It was an interesting tour of the primary Basque centres, all very different and all very rugby oriented. The Christmas market starts in St Jean de Luz tomorrow and I aim to complete my purchases then. A group of workmen were busily, I use this word loosely, constructing a massive crib. I will report back on this and the market tomorrow.

The winds picked up overnight and when I went out for a run this morning in the dark the beach was being pummeled by waves that had somehow managed to retain their gusto beyond the defences. Also speckled along the beach were several mature fellows with enormous fishing rods trying there luck. I hadn't seen people fishing directly from the beach before, let alone in the dark. The lights at the end of their rods swayed mysteriously as they awaited their prey. I wonder what they were after?

Basque of the day:- fishing :: arrantza

Thursday, 18 December 2008

school for scoundrels

Grant, Peter, et al, listen in... Two local educational observations made this week. First up, primary education. As the local primary nears the Christmas break we have noted that they have been having lots of lovely days out. Some school related such as taking PE on the beach, others less so including a mass visit to the wee cinema, Le Rex, this morning to watch a special showing (kids only) of Madagascar 2 (whatever that is). There were around 100 kids and they lined up perfectly awaiting entry, no squabbling, arguing or shouting and all wrapped up in scarves and matching hats. Very sweet but I bet there was a lot of rustling of sweetie papers.

Secondary education. It must be a joy to be at senior school in France at the moment. There have been numerous teacher's strikes resulting in many days off. More recently, the students clearly felt they hadn't had enough holidays and that it was too long to wait till the holidays so they have gone on strike, creating a full-on barrier across the school entrance. Brilliant. What are they striking about? They are angry about reforms to the French secondary examination course, the baccalaureate, and also about the planned loss of 25,000 teaching posts over the next two years. Imagine, pupils sticking up for exams and their teachers...

Conclusion, treat wee kids properly and they are angels, act like militants in front off adolescents and they will follow suit.

Basque of the day:- congratulations :: zorionak (also means happy Christmas holidays)

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

sky gods and cafe culture

Ominous skies were order of the day. I spoke to a local gentleman who told me a little about the myth of Urtzi. He is supposedly the Basque sky god and is represented as the lauburu, with four heads in a swastica like formation. I wonder if this is where the Basque symbol comes from?

I read an interesting article on cafe culture in France. In 1960 there were some 200,000 cafes in France, this year there are c41,500. If the French are unable to retain the culture of sitting around, smoking and chatting idly, what hope for the rest of us?

Basque of the day:- sky :: zeru (this is a modern word, the old Basque word for sky was urtzi)

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

moody waters

The sun disappeared again today, though at least the rain stayed away. Tuesday is a market day so we stocked up on fresh fruit and vegetables (you get three large bags full for around EUR12). I also bought a couple of large handfuls of crevettes (EUR3) to pop into a risotto alongside some tomatoes, white wine (Belingard of course), onion and saucisson - fab.
I went for a wee cycle this afternoon out to Fort Socoa, which I believe dates back to 1627, and managed to get out on the digue as the tide was out. When the tide is in this is completely impassable! Even though it was a few metres down, the sea was seriously menacing out there. A very odd contrast when you stand out there and look back along the digue to shore. On the right the Atlantic relentlessly blasts away at the land, on the left the becalmed waters of the bay offer stillness. Very mean and moody.
Basque of the day:- mood :: gogaldi

Monday, 15 December 2008

snowy white petrol

We awoke to masses of snowfall shining off the mountains in a most splendid wintry sun. As such we opted to find somewhere to build a snowman and partake in a spot of sledging. Heading across the snowy Pyrenees we had lunch in St Jean Pied de Port.
Driving on we ascended the valley of d'Iraty, which is well-known for cross-country skiing, something I fancy having a bash at. After six kilometres of vertical climb I decided that although we have a Swedish car with chains on I ain't happy with all this slipping and sliding on cliff edges. I chickened out and drove back to another route which headed over into Spain. This one was blocked too, though there were some great mountain goats. We figured it was our punishment for bunking off school on a Monday and chose an easier route to Spain to enjoy a hot chocolate sat beside a log fire.
Post hot chocolate I went to fill the car with petrol. It is so much more cost effective doing so in Spain even though it is only 20 miles from St Jean de Luz. A full tank cost me EUR40 today, bargain!
Basque of the day:- snow :: elur

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Basque fire water

Dinner last night was fab. The company was outstanding, a nice melee of Basque, Parisian, Spanish, Portuguese, English and Scottish, all conducting conversation en francais - I think I conducted myself ok. Even more outstanding was Pascale's cooking, what a dinner...

Appetiser: ham tartlets, mini saucisson in pastry, feta parcels served with rose champagne
Starter: home-made foie gras on toasts served with Monbazillac
Main: slow-roasted monkfsh (in a secret family sauce) on herbed-rice served with two outstanding Bordeaux rouges ('78 and '99)
Dessert: awesome chocolate (dark and milk) grated into cream served parceled in sponge, smattered in a creme anglais, served with Patxaran - a very strong Basque tipple Bruno insisted I try, loved it!

The drive home was interesting, I think that I'll experiment with Patxaran a fair bit going forward, very medicinal. From what I woke up remembering this morning we had agreed/ commited to the following:

1. I am going to play pelota - excellent
2. I am now getting my hair cut at a salon in San Sebastian - excellent
3. Maria is going to play golf - great
4. I cannot compete with Pascale in the kitchen - obvious (she had even made the place settings out of pastry - sickening!)
5. there are more fetes and drinking soirees in this region than anywhere else and I am going to spend the next 12 months sampling them - tough decision
6. Maria wants to build a house like Pascale and Bruno's - scary (fab house but it's huge!)
7. I have to wear my kilt at New Year to enable the younger local ladies to 'experience' the mystery that is a Scotsman - very scary

Basque of the day:- frightened :: beldurturik

Saturday, 13 December 2008

sapin noel and Basque parties

It does rain a lot here. My mother always told me not to dress the house for Christmas before the 10th of December so we set out today to get us a 'sapin noel'. We perused various tree-vending establishments around St Jean de Luz before buying one from the wee shop next door (the one where you bought all the biscuits Pete). This week's stressful moment came when we couldn't decided between a two foot potted tree or a seven foot free-stander, we opted for the big one. I tell you, life here can be as tough as it used to be in the City.

We managed to squeeze it into the elevator and expanded it accordingly in the salon. Does anyone else have as much trouble trying to get the blasted thing vertical? It took so long to find a semblance of verticality that we didn't have time to dress it, something for tomorrow.

This evening our friend Pascale has invited us for dinner to her house in Ascain, a lovely wee village in the Pyrenees foothills about 20 mins from St Jean de Luz. Will we manage to cope with fashionable French etiquette? Will we get served anything we don't recognise? Will my tenuous grasp of French see me through the evening? These questions and more to be answered tomorrow (well later this evening probably but I expect I will drink too much and go straight to bed when I get home). A bientot...

Basque of the day:- dinner :: arratsekoa

Friday, 12 December 2008

flaming flamenco

To paraphrase an awful pop song "I took a flamenco class and I liked it". Seriously, it's hard work what with coordinating your hands, feet, clapping, stamping, legs, arms and then there is the yah-yah-yah-reba-reba-ing... Anyway, I have signed up. Same time same place next week and I won't hear a word against it!!...

Lovely piece on the BBC website about France and the Chernyobl Effect. Apparently when the nuclear disaster hit and radiation was racing across Europe the French stated publicly that it wasn't a problem for them because it wouldn't cross their border. Accordingly, there is still yet to be an official statement admitting that France is in recession. Conversely, they say that they are far from it with a mighty economy that grew an awesome 0.14% in Q3. It is reassuring that there is more than one government that sticks its head in the sand and says daft things.

Basque of the day:- government :: gobernu, jaurlaritz

Thursday, 11 December 2008

careless castanets

In my search to integrate into local society I began conversing with a lovely more mature lady over lunch today. I understood fully that she has lived in the Basque country all her life, that she is a widow, enjoys a great social life and has children who live in Spain. About this point my French left me and I nodded very politely for fifteen minutes or so in a Homer-esque fashion as my thoughts wandered to things I did understand like chocolate and donuts.
The lady continued on quite happily as I uttered the occassional 'oui, c'est bon' type comment, laughing and/or scowling as I felt fit for each turn in conversation. Maria joined us for coffee and picked up where my slackness had left off.
As we were leaving the bistro the lady kissed me twice and intimated to meet her here tomorrow around the same time. Somewhat bemused I politely agreed. I asked Maria what all that was about as we walked home. It turns out I have inadvertantly signed up to take flamenco dance classes, starting tomorrow...!!

Basque of the day:- dance :: dantzatu

parlez vous

Three days till my first Franco-Basque dinner party, so three days to at least sound semi-proficient in French, a tall order... After sitting over my books at lunchtime (I ate way too much chocolate mousse) I decided this aproach wasn't working. Maria suggested we have a cinema evening at Le Rex as an alternative way of getting French exposure.

We did a double-header back to back and I can proudly say that I watched my first wholly French movie and understood most of it! The movie is 'Pour Elle' and I strongly recommend it to all. The second movie was more of an obvious one to follow, 'Le Jour où la Terre s'arrêta', 'The Day the Earth Stood Still'. Very average remake of the 1951 classic, released in the UK tomorrow and easy to understand en francais. Keanu Reeves is very 'interesting' with a French voice. Does anyone know why movies are often released in France before elsewhere?

A sad day today, not only has Gordon Brown stated he saved the world, we have to say goodbye to Woolies (even its site is dead!) and to Oliver Postgate, creator of the Clangers, Ivor the Engine and Bagpuss. Emily loved him....

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

cashing in on French luxury

Reading Le Figaro today it appears French luxury brands are responding in different ways to 'le Crise'. In Paris the jiji boutique Lenotre is offering customers a special yuletide chocolate log for a bargain price of EUR115 (it does feed 8 after all, so just over EUR14 a slice). The log is on sale 19th December, get in fast...

Restaurants in Paris are offering cut-prices for recession struck diners. At the Gucci Paris caterer come restaurant Chez Dalloyau, a proposed Christmas menu starts at cEUR60 (before wine), and the EUR65 offering by Chez Francoise (including coffee) has been reserved by 170 people with only 30 places left.

Champagne sales were down almost 17% in October which is bad news for the industry as 40% of sales are realised in Q4... surely some fizzy bargains shall ensue??

Back to tripe then... poor lambs!

drinking, drink and drinks

An seasonably mild and sunny day today so we spent a good deal of the day enjoying another coastal walk. Even the waves were taking it easy though I'm sure it was only a brief break in their eternal attack. Given we had ben virtuous and that it is Monday we decided to go on a a bar crawl this evening (apologies for any resulting incoherence!).

Bar Suisse in the Place Louis XIV is a good place to start such a venture. Being located in the main square it does attract quite a few outsiders (god forbid) but there is still a strong undercurrent of Luziennes. I can recommend either the kir royal or pression.

Leaving the main square we headed along Boulevard Victor Hugo to Chez Kaka. Here is a fine place to eat, the curried moules are a favourite of ours. The clientele is more local 'jiji' so cocktails were the order of the hour. A very passable vodka martini and well mixed cosmopolitan.

We ducked across Rue Gambetta and sought our dinner at the lovely wee Petite Grill Basque. The decor is magnificantly quaint with a myriad of interesting artefacts adorning the walls. There is also the most unusual air conditioning we've ever seen. A series of giant rugs are seemingly framed to the roof, each attached to a length of rope that disappears at the far end of the restaurant. When things get warm a loud click is heard followed by a mechanised pulling of the rope as the rugs shudder into action. Anyway, the food is also fabulous. I started with croquettes stuffed with chicken and followed with breaded veal escalope. We washed supper down with a bottle of Basque red wine, a new wine region for us to sample and we enjoyed it copiously.

Staggering our full frames along Rue Gambetta we continued to Bar Basque and Cellier Chantevin (two of our tried and tested haunts). We continued the red wine theme and are sure to regret it tomorrow. Oh dear, a large glass of water before bed methinks...

Monday, 8 December 2008

pork in wine

A relatively quiet day today. Mother and father departed this afternoon back to the northern wilds so we cooked up a grand lunch after church. The main course was exceptional (and easy) and I share the receipe below:

1. Lighlty brown a large pre-seasoned joint of pork in olive oil then place in an oven-proof casserole dish with a couple of sliced onions. Cover and cook for 60 mins at 180C.
2. Remove dish and add potatoes, sage leaves, black pudding (long lengths) and two glasses of medium white wine. Season, cover and cook for a further 45 mins at 180C.
3. Chop up carrots, beetroot, courgettes, pumpkin and leeks. Place in an oven tray and drizzle with olive oil and rosemary. Cook alongside casserole for 45 mins.

Serve immediately to your parentals and watch your mother look proud!

Saturday, 6 December 2008

fortified paella

We continued our tour of St Jean de Luz this morning showing mother and father a sample of the market, fishing port, beach and shopping. Fortuitously the shops had set up their windows for Christmas so everything looked lovely and we all experienced our first rush of Festive cheer.

Undecided on where to settle for lunch we opted to jump in the car and head across to Spain in search of paella. We drove to a wee town we know called Hondarribia, about half an hour from here. It is a wonderful medeival town whose walls are still pock-marked from bygone battles and defences against the French. I imagine most of these border towns really saw some military action over the years. We found our desired dish and tucked in for an hour or two.

Crammed full of prawns, mussels, chicken, Rioja and rice we decided to go for a walk in the fresh air so jumped in the car and drove to Socoa back on the French side. It is on the opposite side of the bay from St Jean de Luz and has a lovely fort that is attached to one of the digues (sea defences). By now the wind had whipped up again as the tides raced back in. We each took turn and immense pleasure from pushing mother out onto the ramparts so that she could enjoy the exhiliration of being overwhelmed by spray from the crashing breakers. She was very resistant and close to tears but we knew she was secretly probably, or at least possibly, having fun. She is a sport and we love her dearly.

Friday, 5 December 2008

at last, the holy grail of hot chocolates

Father flew in today from Scandinavia bringing a cold gale with him, he is always very generous like that. Lovely to have my parents in town and they both seem to adore St Jean de Luz, being a relatively good son that did make me feel good. The four of us opted to do some visiting so headed out in the car to explore the nearby cities of Biarritz and Bayonne.

I truly love Biarritz, it doesn't do much for me but it does attract most of the British tourists and stops them coming to St Jean de Luz. Truly it's not a bad place, it has fabulous waves and a wonderful rugby club, however, we opted to spend our time in Bayonne. This is a great city. Excellent shopping, lovely architecture and thanks to Pascale's recommendation I have now found the new #1 hot chocolate! My quest for the ultimate hot chocolate is in many ways more challenging than climbing a mountain or running a marathon. In both those instances success can be gauged, one knows if one climbs the highest mountain or breaks a marathon record but one never knows if they have tasted the best hot chocolate. My pursuit is selfless.

If ever you find yourself in Bayonne head for Cafe Cazenave on Rue Pont-Neuf. The chocolate arrives like no other I have seen on my quest so far. The thick froth is teetering over the top of your cup, a wee dish of cream is served on the side (for ultra calorific extra tastiness) and it is served with a warm brioche to dip into the delicious brown molten joy. It is so worth all those morning runs to enjoy moments like this guilt free...

Thursday, 4 December 2008

red, white and green

We have noticed a great deal of red, white and green in our travels around the Basque country. Additionally we have admired the Ikurriña or Ikurrina flag which is the official flag of Pays Basque. The flag is red, white and green and resembles the pattern of the Union Jack. It's British influence is presumed to be due to the close connection between Bilbao and Britain at the time of its design in 1894.

The flag was designed to represent the province of Biscay: a section for each of the seven Basque provinces and one for the whole region. The regime of General Franco prohibited the flag although it continued to be flown and became a symbol of defiance – the first actions of the clandestine group ETA involved placing flags in public places. The flag was only legalised in 1977. The red symbolises the Biscayan people (the race); the green saltire is said to represent the Oak of Guernica, a symbol of the old laws of Bizkaia; and over them all flies the white cross, God's symbol of Basque Catholic devotion. Red, white and green have become the adopted Basque colours and can be seen throughout the region, most notably in the architecture.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

black rods and local bods

Good to see Mr Rod wielding his staff today in the House of Commons, fairplay, pomp and circumstance is something the British do with phenomenal aplomb. British men really know how to wear feathers and fur and get away with it. Talking of fur, the woman from yesterday was out walking her cat on the beach again today. Why is she training it on the beach? Is she anticipating spending time with it in the sea? Possibly beachball? Perhaps a spot of surfing??

We have noticed quite a few interesting characters since arriving here. First up is 'Opera Man'. He cycles around town singing various arias from Mascagni to Mozart and generally filling the streets with music. There are the '4 Walkers of the Apocalypse'. Four more mature gents in berets who walk at break-neck speed along the promenade never saying a word and generally grumping at anyone who crosses their path. 'Smiley Lady' walks and runs the beach each morning smiling to herself in a state of permanent happiness with the world. What is it that makes her so cheery all the time?? Then there is 'Fat Grey Bloke' who is out running every morning, rain or shine, trying to get fit, hang on a moment, that's me...

Basque of the Day:- people :: jende

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

electric forks and cat walks

Very odd day. The weather couldn't decide between snow, sun or thunder storms. Thankfully it mostly opted for the middle one. Out running this morning we came across a wonderful sight, a mature lady out walking her three month old kitten on the beach. Leash and all (see picture left). You don't get that at Bognor.


This follows the pampering other favoured pets receive. Never have we seen so many designer coats, for dogs. Not only that but the poor little pups get carried everywhere, either underarm or better still in a handbag. Together with the existence of many a pooch parlour offering everything from perms and nail filing to teeth whitening and eye tests, there is a definite love for animals in these parts.

As mentioned the weather was largely sun filled. However, I spared many a thought for the fishermen as I looked out into the Atlantic and saw immense thunder storms flashing away across the horizon. The mixed weather is set to stick around till the next lunar change (or so I was told by a neighbour) so more snow, sun and lightning. I must remember to tell mother to pack a warm jumper for her visit this weekend...

Basque of the Day:- cat :: katu

Monday, 1 December 2008

le petit anniversaire

Basque Bylines is one month old today (many thanks to Clare!) and I wish to say thank you to the 300+ who have visited the blog, I hope it is of interest and shall endeavour to keep it so...

My parents arrive later this week and following yesterday's entry, the region is really gearing up to greet more Scots: rain, rain and more rain. Given the weather, little other than work was achieved today (I didn't follow the St Andrew's Day bank holiday rule I regret to say). I did make it to the hardware store though. The French have a word for this form of vendor I love: quincaillerie (kin-ki-erray). It is one of the shops that is open on a Monday, many others take this as a day of rest. This means as a general rule shops are open Tuesday through Friday 1000-1200 and 1500-1900, some take a half day on Saturday, most close Sunday and many on Mondays too. Not a bad working week when you compare the lunatic working schedules of the UK and the such. Another notable difference is the emphasis on fresh, home-grown produce centring on the market. People don't appear to eat less quantity than elsewhere but do appear significantly healthier given the quality of their diet. We are hoping this will rub off on us...

Basque of the Day:- happy :: zorioneko

Sunday, 30 November 2008

lang may yer lum reek

Being St Andrew's Day I felt I had to add a Scottish touch... We were unfortunately correct with our weather prediction. The snow has completely covered La Rhune, but that means that it's raining hard here given our proximity to the beach.

Continuing the Scottish theme I have been pleasantly surprised at the response we get here when I disclose my nationality. The locals seem to be very happy to share in discussing recent defeats of England at rugby! Both of us appear to be fiercely patriotic of our heritage, a good thing. There seem to be lots of other common themes too.

As mentioned we share a love for the oval ball. Both have a variety of other more 'minority' sports that are particular to the regions. Scotland has caber tossing, hammer and sheaf tossing and the stone putt. The Basques have wood chopping, stone lifting, bale tossing and anvil lifting. However Pays Basque also lays claim to Pilota, or Cesta Punta, a wonderful sport. Two teams of two players with large baskets attached to their arm catch and throw a heavy ball at a wall at the end of a large rectangular court. It is a little like squash meets lacrosse meets Deathrace 2000.

Both also have their own language. The Scots have Gaelic, a little spoken tongue partaken in by around 2% of the population. The Basques have Basque which is spoken by over 30% of the people. It is startling that it is still so widely spoken given the harsh attempts by various regimes over the last 100 years to kill off all things Euskadi. At church this morning the service was given in a mix of French and Basque and I can proudly say I managed to sing in both (badly!).

We ended today sipping Ricard at a local bar, Bar Suisse, in the main square of St Jean de Luz, a lovely way to end the weekend. As has so often been the case down here we were made very welcome and enjoyed a myriad of conversations with various locals. I was even given a large tumbler of Macallan to toast St Andrew, slàinte mhòr agad!

Basque of the day:- welcome :: ongi etorri

Saturday, 29 November 2008

tapas and tailwinds

We are taking a wager. For the third Saturday it is beautifully sunny and mild but there is a howling gale threatening to rouse itself. On previous such occasions it was followed by several days of rain, we shall wait and see but the ten day forecast is not hot, sorry Mum (ma mère et père me rendent visite cette semaine)...

We took advantage of the weather and headed off into the Pyrenees for a bit of walking. The view back towards the coast is wonderful, though our fitness levels are not! We scaled halfway up La Rhune but determined to finish the walk another day. The reason was twofold. Firstly we had been told that hefty blizzards were on their way and we could see clouds streaming across the mountain tops. Secondly we figured it was a more fun option to drive on to Pamplona for tapas and sangria. A no-brainer really!

Pamplona is a wonderful city. As capital of the Navarre region in Spain it is heavily steeped in history from general Pompey's camp site in 75BC, the destruction of the city walls by Charlemagne in 778AD, Napoleonic occupation in 1808 to the omni-present festival of San Fermin - more commonly known as the Bull Run - which has continued to grow in appeal since the C13th. Navarre is the primary Basque region in Spain.

It is odd criss-crossing the French-Spanish border because it is far less noticeable than crossing from Gascony to Pays Basque or Aragon to Navarre. The architecture is similar, there is a common beauty in the appearance of the people, the landscapes remain stunning and there is an inextricable bond in the Basque language. We are looking forward to exploring this further.

Word has it that I have volunteered to run the bulls next year so this blog may get cut short in July...

Basque of the day:- hello :: agur

Friday, 28 November 2008

changing seasons

Although the weather today is much the same as yesterday something in the air has changed. All of a sudden the Christmas spirit that robustly raised its head in the UK some months ago has finally started to flow through the streets of St Jean de Luz. The myriad of wee shops (mostly independents) are starting to dress their windows and the streets are a hive of activity as shopkeepers carry conifer branches, ribbons and baubles to and fro. The decorations are subtle, tasteful and unmistakingly French.

Dramatically, the last of the plane trees have been shorn of their branches. It's rather sad to see as it removes the last bastion of greenery from the centre of town. We now have to put up with living amidst the wonderful Basque architecture sans nature, c'est la vie. I still have no idea when the Christmas lights get turned on...

Given it's Friday we followed local custom and bought our first whole fish from the market today, a daurade (sea-bream). A new challenge awaits in the kitchen this evening.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

seal clubs and globetrotting

A stunningly crisp and even day. Looking across to the mountains from the headland it was clear that the snow had been busy at work overnight. However, today the winds ceased and the sun was exceedingly generous. Whilst out walking along the coastal path (it runs some 30km from Spain up to Biarritz) I noticed that there were lots of fishing boats out. Reflecting the traditional Basque colours, the boats are either deep red or dark green, and set against the contrasting blues of ocean and sky it made a beautiful scene.
Fishing and sailing have long been part of Basque heritage. As early as the C16th there is record of Basque crews sealing and whaling in the North Sea and even Newfoundland where hangers-on can still be found. The rudder seems to have been invented in the Basque region too, certainly the European version, as there are frescoes and seals dating back to the C12th that depict three masted ships. It is also said that the early terminology referred to steering by rudder as “a la Bayonnaise”. When the Portuguese explorer Magellan set off to explore the world in the early C15th his crew was Basque. Given that the crew returned his vessel to the Basque country after the captain died in the Philippines it can be said that the Basque people were the first to circumnavigate the earth.
These days St Jean de Luz is still a very active fishing port focused on crevettes, anchovies, sardines and tuna. All caught and sold daily in the market, and all delicious!

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

snow and wicca

Icy cold day today. La Rhune was snow-capped for the first time that we've seen, very pretty too. The mountain looms ever present, residing over St Jean de Luz. The maps say it is almost 1000m high, making it the same height as Scafell Pike, almost as high as Snowdon and a definite Munro. Although it rises from sea-level at the western end of the Pyrenees it never actually looks that high.

They say that the name translates in Basque as 'good pastures' and it is with Basque culture that La Rhune (or Larrun in Basque) is held in highest esteem. Many myths and legends surround the mountain. Until the late C18th locals paid a monk to dwell on the mountain full time in order to ward off the hoards of witches it was believed lived atop the mountain. So prolific were witches in these parts that the Spanish Inquisition undertook its most ambitious witch trials in the C17th just over the border in Navarre. Goya's 'Le Sabbat de Sorcieres' depicts wicca in practice.

I haven't seen any witches yet but will let you know if I do.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

smoke on the water

It's not just a groovy Deep Purple guitar riff, it really does exist! Out running early this morning between storm barrages we spotted what looked like steam coming off the sea where it had been smashing into the digues. Am guessing that the air temperature was significantly colder than the sea - does anyone understand why it happens??

Found a fab new wee place for lunch, Txantxangorri, three lovely courses plus coffee for EUR11.50, being a Scot I appreciated the price. The place was crammed full of lunching locals sheltering from the winds in platefuls of deliciously warm fodder! The storm came in again this aternoon so we spent the remains of the day largely indoors.
My dear friend Grant suggested that it was about time I paid homage to the Citreon DS, an outstanding bastion of French engineering and style. Marketed as an executive car it sold over 20 million units between 1955-75 and came third in the car of the century competition. Very cool too!

Monday, 24 November 2008

veering southwest 8 or 9, thundery showers, moderate becoming poor

The storm became ever more impressive as the night drew on: thunder, lightening, hail-stones, gales. It even made the shipping forecast. Biscay is one of the southernmost regions covered by the BBC Radio 4 shipping forecast, and often one of the stormiest. Today was a 'severe gale force 9 veering northeasterly' and it felt it. The shipping forecast soothes the air waves four times a day and the 0048 rendition has to be one of my favourite cures for insomnia. It follows a full-length rendition of Ronald Binge's 1963 classic, 'Sailing By'.

Both the forecast and tune have had a suprising impact on popular culture from song lyrics by Blur, Radiohead and The Prodigy to inumerable comedy sketches. Stephen Fry produced one of the funniest:

"And now, before the news and weather, here is the Shipping Forecast issued by the Meteorological Office at 1400 hours Greenwich Mean Time.
Finisterre, Dogger, Rockall, Bailey: no.
Wednesday, variable, imminent, super.
South Utsire, North Utsire, Sheer Ness, Foulness, Elliot Ness:
If you will, often, eminent, 447, 22 yards, touchdown, stupidly.
Malin, Hebrides, Shetland, Jersey, Fair Isle, Turtle-Neck, Tank Top, Courtelle:
Blowy, quite misty, sea sickness. Not many fish around, come home, veering suggestively.
That was the Shipping Forecast for 1700 hours, Wednesday the 18th of August, 1988."

Sunday, 23 November 2008

stormy Sunday classics

A thunderously stormy night continued throughout the day, quite spectacular at times. We endured a run in torrential rain this morning and must get some brownie points for that. The break coming in off the Atlantic was exceptional and sounded terrific. I finally beat the forementioned boy to the boulangerie and managed to buy some deliciously fresh chocolatines, I ate three 'sans culpabilité'.
video
Attending church was especially lovely today thanks in large to the historic suffering of Saint Cecilia (see yesterday's entry). A full orchestra and choir treated us to a selection of lovely music from Haydn to Prokofiev. I thought that the financial crisis had hit a new high (or low) after reading the church circular. An article caught my eye asking parisioners to help support what I thought to be a local bank, I was outraged. Turns out it was a 'banque' of charitable donations, cakes, clothes and the such, that are being sold as part of a 'braderie', the French equivalent of a jumble sale. Am rather glad I didn't take that one up with Cyril, my bank manager.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

feast day of St Cecilia

Today is the feast day of Saint Cecilia, patron saint of great musicians, poets and church music. Excited though we were by the prospect of a C15th banquet we had to settle for a fine rendition of 'Hymn to St Cecilia, Op27' by Britten and a finger buffet of roast palombe and peppers. Not a bad compromise. Throughout France, villages celebrate with music, bonfires and fireworks (any excuse for a party).
Saint Cecilia is celebrated throughout the Catholic world as a friend to all. She didn't have a friendly end though. Story has it that after her capture by the prefect Turcius Almachius (great name) she was locked in an overheated sweat-house. This didn't work so it was ordered she be beheaded. After three attempts the executioner ran away. She survived a further three days before her martyrdom commenced - nice.
Once again the rain was unrelenting. Incoming reports show far colder weather on higher ground. Further inland, beyond La Rhune in the Pyrenees Atlantiques some of the ski stations opened their slopes today. There are some 37 ski stations in the French Pyrenees and we are looking forward to exploring them in the coming weeks for some pre-Christmas skiing.
We cooked up a fabulous Rick Stein recipe for prawn linguine this evening. Though we are still not being overly adventurous with the local seafood catches we have become a dab hand at peeling prawns!

Friday, 21 November 2008

le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrive!

On the third Thursday of November each year French law dictates that the latest crop of Beaujolais can be distributed. Starting at one minute past midnight over a million cases of the red stuff make their way from the many vineyards to market places globally. So much importance is placed on this by wine connessieurs from New York to New Delhi that bottles are transported by car, motorbike, boat and plane in a race by bars, cafes and restaurants to be the first to serve the new crop. Beaujolais Nouveau day started as a local event but has been blown open as wine is ever more enjoyed globally. By the time this event, which lasts several days, is over almost half the harvested stock has been consumed.

We visited the market early today to stock up on crevettes, fruit and vegetables. I even braved returning to the previously mentioned butcher for some meats. Given that the rain has been unrelenting we determined to spend the remains of the day exploring the more liquid aspects of this most sacred of French days - sante!

Thursday, 20 November 2008

pia pia piano

Today we were assured that our piano would finally turn up (two months after the rest of our furniture). We had spoken extensively with the moving company, letting them know that at least four men would be needed to get it up the four flights of stairs and internal balconies leading to our apartment. When we first moved in a 'monte-meuble' was erected. It's a long ladder reaching from street level to the balcony on which a lift ascended precariously carrying our furniture. It was deemed not to be robust enough to transport the piano. We were sceptical at the time since this surmation had arisen as the rain started.

Around 1730 three chaps turned up. Clearly unbriefed they spent a good 20 minutes partaking in that past-time at which removal men everywhere excel: humphing, huffing and grumping. "C'est impossible!" was their suggestion. After a further hour of discussion, phone calls and general ambivalence little had happened. The piano remained snugly stored in their van. The big boss called. The chaps stood to attention as Maria gave him a piece of her mind. I was most impressed by her debating skills in French, however, the piano remained in the van. They suggested that we store the piano in either the wine cellar or garage, it didn't fall on eager ears. Around 1900 the men shrugged their shoulders and left to drive back to the depot. The piano remains in their van, but at least we have an assurance that it will arrive soon.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

commercial savvy

Well it is nearing the end of November. Although the main Christmas lights have been strung up along the main drag not one has been switched on. Neither are any of the shops showing the faintest signs of tinsel, Santa or Chris Cringle. No early Christmas trees, mechanised carol singing or bloody elves. It is so refreshing being able to enjoy November without having more than one eye emblazened on late December.

However, while this less commercial approach is invigorating, possibly even innovative these days, there is a more frustrating side. Lunch. Although it is respectful that lunch is sacred amongst retail outlets, it is also undentingly rigid. We recently sought to buy ski wear in advance of exploring the many Pyrenees ski stations. By 1220 we had most of the items we wanted less goggles and gloves. On asking for assistance we were informed that they couldn't help until after lunch. Could we leave our trolley till then? No, buy now or come back at 1500 and start over. We still need ski wear. Which brings me to today, in a round about way...

Our friend Pascale suggested we visit Bayonne to taste what she believes to be the ultimate hot chocolate. We arrived in time for lunch, and yup, it was closed. A retail outlet that offers food and drink but closes over lunch - brilliant. Bayonne was wonderful but I was in a grump so no photos today.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

happy banks and innuendos

I haven't seen the peak of La Rhune all day today, and it has rained a fair bit too...

We had a meeting with our bank manager this morning. As with most people I was slightly trepidous beforehand for no rational reason other than it's a bank. On arrival we buzzed the security buzzer (you can't just walk into most branches down here) and the wee receptionist smiled at us through the window before clicking the door open and bidding we enter. We entered and were greeted by Cyril our bank manager, undoubtedly the finest and smartest branch manager on the planet. Behind him stood the entire branch staff, all six of them, and he introduced us to each individually as we shook their hand. It was all very formal and made me feel a little silly with my £1.25 savings account.

Following the introductions he bid we enter his office, more of a boardroom given that space is hardly a premium in these parts. Accompanying him was his deputy Frederic and a young lady wearing an exceptionally short skirt called Sandrine. It transpired that her primary function was to sit next to me, take notes and show an indecent amount of thigh. I like to think that I support sexual equality so struggled a little then remembered where I was and that I should act accordingly. Thereafter her presence was a pleasure.

We conducted our affairs with all three proving an uncanny knowledge of global banking procedures and investments (£1.25 can go a long way if you are patient). The meeting lasted over an hour and it was Maria and I that had to bring it to an end, we were parched. As we have found common in French business meetings, even those that last some time, no offer of water was made. We thanked Cyril et al who had not only helped us enormously but also made us feel exceptionally happy, something no other bank has ever managed to do. As we were leaving Sandrine sidled up to me: "Monsieur Walker, I vill contact you if I 'av any action for you". Bemused but excited by this proposition I was quickly brought to earth by Maria who explained that 'action' was another term for investment opportunity. Hey ho, you live and learn.

Monday, 17 November 2008

the big boys are in the butcher

Woke up as a sortie of tiny clouds wrapped themselves around the peak of La Rhune. Their attack didn't mount to much and it stayed mild and sunny all day. Made my second faux pas of the week. I had a hankering for a gammon steak so set forth to find some. Unfortunately by the time I got to the butchers I had forgotten the French for gammon steaks (épaisse tranche de jambon salé). Instead I tried to explain that in Scotland there is a type of pork steak we eat with eggs or pineapple. The butcher listened attentively but two burly chaps next to me explained in no uncertain terms that they didn't care what people eat in Scotland and that I was now in the Basque country so should eat Basque food. Before I was able to express that I had meant no disrespect and that the Basques and Scots alike enjoy the meat I was trying to explain, I recalled that the military head of ETA had been captured earlier today and figured that there may be some resulting antagonism. Those who know me are aware of my unrivalled reputation for bravery, so I aptly purchased a joint of pork and left poste haste. Nice butcher shop though.

Signs of the recession are slowly sinking in around St Jean de Luz. Not only is it the hot topic amongst coffee drinkers, some shops are running closing down sales and there are a couple of properties appearing for auction sale. Many other shops had already closed down for the season to re-open in the Spring, I only hope that they are all able to. Le Figaro ran a report today stating that the top 8 oligarchs/billionaires in France have lost c€26bn in the last few months. They all own consumer facing businesses so people should expect a knock-on effect. The French finance minister, Christine Lagarde, must regret boasting in The Economist about the "totally remarkable performance" of the economy and asking what all the drama is about...

Saturday, 15 November 2008

happy daze and warring mandolins

Waking up this morning it dawned on me just how darned happy I am here. We've been lucky enough to travel the world, stay in swanky hotels and enjoy turning left rather than right on more than our fair share of flights and compared to all that St Jean de Luz just feels good...

Daytime largely consisted of the usual Sunday ritual: breakfast (including some marvellous boudin noir), church, promenading, we saw some lovely rock formations (one for you Murray!), and of course hot chocolate. Today we treated ourselves at the wonderful Pâtisserie Etchebaster, home of the undisputed champion of chocolat chaud in St Jean de Luz. It's so chocolatey that they serve it with a pitcher of water - brilliant!

This evening we ventured to the Ravel auditorium for an evening of traditional Basque music. The auditorium is named after one of the town's favourite sons, famous for his Bolero not his shoe shops. A local children's choir opened proceedings and sang some old Basque lullabies, very sweet. Basque is a language that seems more suited to song than any other I have heard - we must try to learn some of the native tongue although our friends here say it takes at least four years to learn. The grown-ups arrived next and gave an acceptable performance of various choral pieces. Third on were a group of 30 guitars and mandolins. As they took to the stage we were a little unsure what to expect. A shrill serenade of strings moved from Celtic to Basque to Latino music and raised the roof. All very splendid. It sets us up nicely for another tough week ahead!

tidal waves and gateau smiles

A beautiful morning so we got up early and headed for the beach. While the cold had snapped hard in St Jean de Luz yesterday, today the sun fought back with gusto and we enjoyed warmth. Our timing enabled us to go beachcombing as the tide was out and the oyster fisherman in. We even managed to walk out to the large Digue Ste Barbe one of three large defensive walls built in Napoleonic times to protect the main bay from the Atlantic. Although we were at the end of the digue at lowest tide we could still feel the power of the Atlantic as waves crashed into the outer wall and sprayed up and over us. We remained only a few minutes but by the time we were walking back towards the cliffs the tide was coming in fast and the weather starting to change. This is a dangerous place and I'll think twice before walking out there again!

Returning to town Maria had a craving for paella. We found a small and modest restaurant on the main 'place' and settled into a large terrine of seafood, chicken and saffron rice - delicious! Given that Scotland were playing South Africa at rugby this afternoon we decided to head home, but not before we stopped at a patisserie to buy a lovely Gateau Basque - if you've never tried it, do! Besides my challenge to find the perfect hot chocolate, I am also tasking myself unenviably, with seeking out the perfect Gateau Basque. The match was excellent and Scotland nearly won, a recurring theme...

Around 1700 clouds started to creep down La Rhune with a menace of less amiable weather to come. Simultaneously the main pedestrian street, Rue Gambetta, started to fill with promenaders. The French are wonderful at promenading and take it very seriously. It felt as though all of the town was out and enjoying Saturday evening. Multitudes of couples walked up and down the street inner arms linked, outer arms either carrying shopping or a dog - what is it with the whole carrying your dog thing? The cafes soon filled up too, as French sophisticates determined to sit outdoors enjoy warm beverages and cigarettes whilst lovestruck teenagers brave the cold and cuddle up on benches.

Still full from our paella (this town is even more excellent if you enjoy fish) we passed on dinner and headed out on our regular Saturday night bar walk (we gave up crawling long ago).

Thursday, 13 November 2008

militant marches and bon marche

Reading Le Figaro over breakfast set me off in a bad mood today. We have long known that French employees stand for no-nonsense when it comes to their entitlements and wellbeing. However I am still aghast looking at details of current various corporate action. The pilots and stewards/hostesses of Air France are the most recent to take strike action in abject horror at being asked to extend their working lives from 60 until 65, bless. Imagine having to work as long as other European countries, horrendous... I could perhaps have some sympathy were it not that they are maintaining their full entitlement to an end of career non-taxable cash payout in the region of 200,000 euros each. Perhaps they would prefer to work five years less and waive this payment? Bizarre and dumbfounding that they announce such militant action on the day the Eurozone officially goes into recession and at a cost to Air France for the four day strike of around 100,000,000 euros, about the third of the cost of a new Boeing 737. Rant over.

The cold was biting in St Jean de Luz today so we declared today a work today - god forbid! My wife did sneak out mid afternoon to enjoy the end of season sales, market and have a coffee with our friend Pascale. Pascale runs a great wee business here that helps second-homers settle (Cote Basque Info Services) and she is a superstar! My only outing was my daily run, swim in the sea and trip to the boulangerie. For the third day running some kid had bought up all the fresh chocolatines, when I catch him he is in trouble. I also managed to make an excellent faux pas using my slowly improving French language skills. Watching the locals I have figured out that rather than ask for a straight baguette there are two options, white and doughy or crispy and well-done (I prefer the former). Unfortunately as I walked into the boulangerie my thoughts were elsewhere, Hogwarts to be precise, and I asked for a 'dame blanche' rather than a 'baguette blanche'. One is a nice length of bread, the other is a barn owl, oh how we laughed...hey ho...

hot hot chocolates

St Jean de Luz finally admitted it was autumn today. The leaves quickly shed their green in favour of this season's colours: red, orange, gold and yellow. Somebody forgot to let the weather
know as it rebounded from yesterday and was actually warm. We even saw people other than ourselves swimming in the sea. Somebody also forgot to inform Mother Nature as a very happy bumblebee idled its way across our terrace as I sat reading this afternoon.
I continued my medical theme and successfully navigated various linguistical challenges. In case anyone visits a physio or radiologist in France the following phrases may prove useful:
- "Je ne détonerai pas si je fais prendre une photographie de rayon X"
- "J'avais l'habitude d'avoir huit jambes mais un petit enfant a retiré six"
- "Combien de temps est-ce que je devrais exposer un chat au rayonnement avant qu'il ait été dangereux?"
- "Ce n'est pas ma jambe que vous massez"
Onto my primary challenge and daily stress. In my truly selfless way over the last month I have given myself the honourably horrific and presidentially petrifying task of determing which establishment in Pays Basque serves up the the best hot chocolate. So far my top 5 reads as follows, in descending order (all SJdL unless stated):
5. Cafe Vauban - highly passable beverage, particularly enjoyable for accompanying an hour or so reading Le Figaro, could be more chocolately and/or be served with a chocolate on the side.
4. Le Majestic - similar to Vauban's in quality and stature but jumps a place given its people watching possibilities in the main square.
3. Pâtisserie Etchebaster - thick and creamy and they sell great cakes!
2. Atelier du Chocolat - the best of both chocolate worlds, a chocolate shop that sells great products and also mixes and makes hot chocolate for your enjoyment...but you have to take away.
1. Parador de Hondarribia - a C10th castle across the border en Espagne, this is truly the king of hot chocolates, thick, creamy, sticky, heart chokingly excellent and in wonderful surroundings (I believe most Paradores share the secret recipe).
I hope somebody appreciates the pain I am putting myself through to generate this league table. The quest shall go on.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

doctor doctor...

Driving rain, strong winds, 14C, sun-up 0740, sun-down 1811.

Today I decided I'd finally resolve all those niggling aches and pains that have been mounting over the last decade and become particularly exacerbated since I turned 30 (a wee while back). I'm not one who is afraid of medical treatment, just like many others I rarely get around to it. Locating a local doctor I called to make an appointment. Rather than the 'you can have an appointment towards the end of next week' response I expected, the assistant asked when I would like to have an appointment and whether I was free today - shock! Double shock when after sitting with him for a minute I realised he had my entire medical history at his fingertips. Now, France may be riddled by bureaucracy but the quality of service I received from the doctor was outstanding. By the time I had left he had not only given me a very sound diagnosis, he had also booked me to see a physiotherapist and for an MRI (unrelated issues unfortunately!). Centre-left Socialism, for the first time, I salute you!


St Jean de Luz has become very quiet this week. Yesterday was the last public holiday for a while (the French are almost as bad as teachers for taking time off) and so most tourists and second-homers have gone back, well, home. It is rather nice though. As you we walk down the main streets we are definitely recognising and being recognised by the local Luziens. Indeed we have received two invitations this week, one for coffee and one for dinner. I had best be brushing up my linguistics. Given it's now gone 1730, the working day is pretty much over and the cafes are slowly starting to fill up with aperitif imbibers and chatterings.




Being a chap I felt entirely consumed after being to the doctors so achieved little else today other than a wee run up the coast (and some more scribblings). While the winds and waves are buffeting the coastline the temperature remains very mild. I am less inclined to jump into the sea, and have even been known to turn the heating on of an evening, but it is still very much outdoor weather. Most of the migrating birds have passed on (as in headed south not died) so the coastal paths are far quieter than they have been.

Does anyone know how to explain ligament damage to a physio in French?

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Armistice Day

We walked across a rain-drenched St Jean de Luz, past the harbour across the river and into Ciboure for the Armistice Day memorial. Since we arrived slightly early we milled around with various soldiers, sailors and police constabularies. They were all very amiable but looked so young, particularly the soldiers, which made me feel very morose not because I am getting older but in consideration of what we were here to remember. Although battle thankfully never ravished this area (although there are various German pill boxes along the cliffs used as lookout posts) many young men gave their lives or as they said after reading their names "mort pour France". Around four hundred locals joined the forty or so servicemen as the mayor gave a short reading thanking the families and those other countries who came to the rescue of France 90 and 70 years ago.
Imagine having been 17 and fighting in World War I, the war to end all wars, and then on your 39th birthday, after enduring years of Spanish flu, WWII breaks out. It is worrying that kids these days moan about stress and are want to create their own violence. However, we need to remember that there do remain less fortunate innocents in countries such as Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan who are mixed up in daily bombardments between two sides they neither support or condone. I always feel very proud and hopeful on days like today, not patriotism as such, more a collective belief that were things to become terrible again we may still be able to band together and vanquish evil.
After the mayor's short piece, local children read the names of those from Ciboure who had died. Following the drummers and servicemen who marched ahead we proceeded back across the bridge into St Jean de Luz where the names of the fallen Luzien's were read out. Once the ceremonial aspect had finished everyone went back to the Hotel de Ville for an aperitif and some fabulous Bayonne ham (jambon). A real sense of community still pervades here. Many of the names read out shared the same family name, names which are still highly prevalent today.

Monday, 10 November 2008

for whom the bell tolls

There are advantages and disadvantages to living in a top floor apartment in St Jean de Luz. Advanages include wonderful views and the sound of waves at night. The disadvantage is the eglise Saint-Jean-Baptiste. Although a wonderful example of community Catholicism, the historic bell rings out each hour of the day, and night. Not only does it ring out the 60 minute segment, it repeats itself just in case you missed it. This is lovely until you get to around 4am when eight deeply resonating peels disturb even the deepest whisky induced slumber. As I have been told, if this is the greatest of my concerns then I am a lucky man, enough said.

Warm and balmy t-shirt weather today so we spent the morning on beach catching up on some reading and making the occasional foray into the sea. The oldies aqua-aerobics class was out again, there is something particularly Victorian about seeing a group of octogenarians working out in the sea. Before lunch we headed to the market to stock up on fresh crevettes (prawns) and vegetables after the success of supper on Saturday. The market was very busy as locals and tourists sought out fare in advance of tomorrow's public holiday, remember although today is not a public holiday most people are off work so as to 'faire le pont'. Although the French respectfully take a public holiday on 11 November, finding out if there is a commemorative service or procession fell largely on deaf ears. I guess having been secretive French Resistance fighters they are still reluctant to discuss anything openly about the War until you have proven your trustworthiness.

This afternoon we made a remarkable discovery akin to anything Indiana Jones (top link!) could have achieved. We have identified the location of the legendary Foret de Lapins. We had heard tale that there were thousands of these mythical vampire creatures roaming the hills somewhere near here and now we know where they are we can seek them out and attempt to uncover the Coupe de Carottes. It's actually a wee nature place not far from here, but we thought the name was brilliant!

Sunday, 9 November 2008

rugby rumbles and sunny sunday

Woke up around 8am to the sun streaming through the window, not what I am used to in November. Sunday is the day of rest so a break from running! After a leisurely breakfast of fruits purchased from the market, again on the balcony, we strolled up Rue Gambetta to Saint-Jean-Baptiste. The service was almost entirely in Basque which made it a tad more challenging. (Photo shows the bricked up door alluded to last Sunday). Once again, the church enjoyed a full house. Given Tuesday is a public holiday for Remembrance Day, there are many tourists in town. If the French have a public holiday on a Thursday or Tuesday they tend to take the Friday or Monday off for what they call 'faire le pont', a bridge to a long weekend.

After church we took a leisurely stroll along the promenade via the harbour which is always worth a visit due to the tirelessly enjoyable range of colours, smells and noises. The tides have obviously changed as the fishing boats were returning later than usual.




This afternoon I enjoyed my first rugby match in the Pays Basque, St Jean de Luz Olympique vs Valence d'Agen. A good quality game ending 28-23 in favour of the home side. Although there were only five or six hundred spectators, the Basque crowd lived up to my expectations and hopes by generating noise levels experienced less often in Scotland or England.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

I caught my first tube today, sir

Surf was most definitely up this morning. I counted around 50 surfers braving the cold tides. Not surprisingly my wife spent most of the morning by the beach. After the firemen yesterday I am very much looking forward to the all-women beach volleyball competition! There were also a good number of fisherman wiling the hours away on the piers, it looks exceedingly relaxing, just not sure if I would have the patience. The weather was lovely so after picking up some croissants (a kid in front of me bought up all the chocolatines, most dischuffed) we managed breakfast on the terrace. Afterwards we headed to the fish market to pick up ingredients for tonight's supper. Rather than paella we have opted for a seafood risotto. The market was packed, both with fish and customers. We picked up 250g of prawns for €3, a bargain. Already have some clams and a little saucisson so all set.

Given the weather, we spent the afternoon on the beach. Again, I was the only one daft enough to venture into the sea (without a wetsuit). A real Saturday feeling with myriads of pedestrians and shoppers abounding around town. I am assuming that besides the locals enjoying the weekend that there are a lot of people within the region who visit St Jean de Luz for the day. Even after dusk the streets were busy. A very pleasant atmosphere and certainly not the usual November feeling. The risotto was a fantastic success and enjoyed wholeheartedly with a fine bottle of Chateau Belingard 2005.
Anyone figured out the film today's title comes from?