Friday, 27 March 2009

petites vacances

We are heading back to Blighty for a bapteme. Squeezing a few words in here as I pack our bags before racing to Flamenco in advance of hitting the airport. It is all so stressful.

It will be lovely to see family back home, but I can't wait to get back to the Basque country and we haven't even left yet. Back Tuesday, mother may or may not do a bit of blogging.

Basque of the day:- travel :: bidaiatze

Thursday, 26 March 2009

La Plancha, Ilbarritz

Mother and father have arrived in St Jean de Luz for a wee break and a spot of cat sitting while we head back to the UK this weekend. The weather has held up nicely for them. After an exhausting morning of reading on the front terrace we decided upon lunch. To be fair mother had had a tougher morning, she had received a pummeling at the hands of the Amatsu queen, Caroline. Given the weather and warmth we took them to our current favourite lunchtime haunt, La Plancha in Ilbarritz.

It is nestled in a stunning wee cove looking out across the Atlantic. On days like today it is perfect. The smell of warm air mixing with the waves as they crash on the beach exhausted after their trip from New York is enough to make even the grumpiest of bears smile. We had a fab table on the beach and ordered with gusto. Maria: gambas in garlic cream & dourade; Mother: house salad & steak; Father: anchovies & dourade; me: mixed salad & gambas. The desserts here are truly to die for. Although we were more than replete after our ever stunning main course we shared four between us: tirimasu (which we declared the best ever), chocolate brownie in chocolate sauce with chocolate ice cream, raspberry creme tart, brebis with a fruit coulis. We ended lunch seven hours ago and are yet to eat another thing.

Given our departure for a few days Mother Bear has agreed to take over writing the blog in our absence. I apologise in advance for any cussing, crassness or generally untowards language.

Basque of the day:- meal :: otordu

mon cher

One of the serious knock on effects of economic turmoil is exchange rate fluctuation. When we moved out here it was roughly 1.5x, which now feels like a dream. A coffee that cost €3 would equate to £2, a meal that cost €10 would equate to £6.65. Given we hover around parity everything has increased in price by one third.

Those working in tourism appear confident that 'le crise' will not affect them. However, when I explain this basic shift in economics they begin to worry and appreciate that perhaps even St Jean de Luz may be affected by world affairs, certainly in terms of foreign visitor volumes.

Basque of the day:- money :: diru

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

it must be true, it was in the papers

The European Parliament has been in session in Strasbourg today discussing, amongst other things, the global crisis and how to avert protectionism. Two stories appeared in the current edition of 'The Week' that I felt were particularly pertinent given these meetings:wine terrorists strike again
French police are searching for members of a radical group that has launched three attacks in three weeks on merchants who sell foreign wine. In the latest incident, the activists broke into the Vignerons des Garrigues, a co-operative in Nimes, and emptied eight vats containing 240,000 gallons of wine - the equivalent of 1.2m bottles. The empty vats were daubed with the initials CRAV, standing for Le Comite Regional D'Action Viticole (regional committee for viticultural action). The co-operative was attacked because, although it mostly sells local wine, it buys cheap Spanish wine to sell as low-grade vin de table. Damages are estimated at €600,000.
Sony boss held hostage
The CEO of Sony France and his head of human resources were held overnight on Thursday last week by workers protesting against their redundancy terms. Employees barricaded exits from the factory near Bordeaux, which is due to close next month with the loss of 311 jobs, forcing Serge Foucher and Roland Bentz to spend the night in a conference room. Representatives said it was the only way to make management listen to their concerns; they are unhappy that their severance terms fell far short of packages offered to Sony workers in the past. The 'hostages' were released on Friday morning after Sony agreed to further talks. Relations between the two sides were said to have been 'perfectly friendly', and the police did not intervene. The 'sequestration' of bosses is not uncommon - two Michelin executives were held in a plant for five days last year.


Yesterday was our wedding anniversary. My wife clearly stated that she feels I am more than sufficiently romantic throughout the year to avoid any faux requirements on such dates (at least I think that's what she said). It was our sixth.

Six years ago...
- Concorde made its last commercial flight
- the first case of SARS came to light
- Martha Stewart was indicted
- the last ever Volkswagon Type 1 was produced
- UK saw record temperatures reach 38.5C in Kent (temperatures in Paris reach 44C)
- George W was greeted by thousands of protesters in the UK
- England wins the Rugby World Cup
- Porto beat Celtic in the UEFA Cup Final
- Roy Jenkins, Maurice Gibb, Adam Faith, Nina Simone, Gregory Peck, Katharine Hepburn, Sir Denis Thatcher, Johnny Cash, Timothy Treadwell, Bob Monkhouse and Mickey Finn all bid us adieu

Basque of the day:- marriage :: ezkontza

Sunday, 22 March 2009

St Jean de Luz sevillanas

Our second Flamenco outing. Ninety fabulously attired people with a common wish to dance. A delicious dinner began. The tables were set around the central floor which was continually refilled as each course was presented. By the time dessert began to arrive everyone had danced at least two sevillanas. [select link to sevillanas]

By the time the evening was over everyone had danced at least a dozen sevillanas, along with a smattering of salsa and dollop of paso doble. Although we have been practicing for a few months we are still way behind regular dancers. We were sat with a lovely group of young French and Spanish people, it transpired they were all experts, some professionals from Madrid. Very harsh competition.
(A friend at the soiree has started referring to me as a Bobby whi I believe is a French cartoon character, any thoughts on the subject appreciated as I have no idea who Bobby is)
We had a friend staying this weekend so it was long after daybreak before we finally stopped gossiping and drinking whisky. Today has been spent recovering on the beach, kicking a rugby ball around and eating roast chicken. Early to bed to be ready for yet another stressful week in St Jean de Luz. I need a holiday.
Basque of the day:- tired :: nekatu

Friday, 20 March 2009


Today was a busy day on the exercise front. A 5k run this morning, ninety minutes of Flamenco practice then my first outing onto a pelota court. The run was lovely as ever. The early morning sun rose from behind the Pyrenees as the residents of St Jean de Luz took their morning air before a day of work. Flamenco was tough. We have a big soiree tomorrow evening and this was our last practice beforehand. A little stressful but I am hoping for a better result than my efforts last time. Pelota. Well...

To say pelota makes rugby look and feel like ginkana is an understatement. It is a sport that combines the best bits of rugby (the bashing people and deft movements) with squash and tennis. It is also very masculine. The court is roughly five times that of a squash court and four men get locked in with bats, helmets and a hard ball. It is exceedingly fast and I was shattered before we'd completed the first game. Then came the tough stuff. It reminded me of playing rugby at college as we sat having our post match lunch. Within twenty minutes we had sunk four large glasses of red wine, more was forthcoming. No women are permitted into the club and smoking rules are very loose. Although it is a dark bar area seeped in testosterone it is also exceptionally warm and relaxed. I was made to feel very welcome, the Scottish card works well on such occasions, and look forward to future Fridays with much expectation. I do think practice is required before I go back, both fitness and drinking. Time for a lie down.

Basque of the day:- men :: izenaren

Thursday, 19 March 2009

revolting people

Today the French have been revolting. In over 200 towns hundreds of thousands of people took a stand against Sarkozy's proposed economic policies. Public and many private sector workers took to the streets demanding change. Key amongst their gripes are:
  • Demands for an increase to the minimum wage
  • A reversal on the 50% cap on income tax
  • Suspension of public sector job cuts
  • Measures to protect employment
I will allow your own thoughts on the above but ask they be considered alongside the sliding economic situation.
Not to be outdone the more militant residents of St Jean de Luz were out in numbers too, on the beach. They take strike action as seriously as 'le crise' down here. A shrug of the shoulders and faint muttering of "boff" or "mon dieu" followed by donning of sunglasses and ordering of pastis.
Basque of the day:- relax :: erlaxatu

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

strike while the sun shines

Tomorrow sees yet another day of nationwide protests. This time they are rallying against Sarkozy and the state of the economy. I know he has a bit of an ego but laying the entire global meltdown at his feet is a little over the top. Some 78% of the population is behind the action and large numbers are expected to take strike action.

It may be mere coincidence that France is also enjoying its warmest March in years with solid sun and temperatures exceeding 25C. I have every confidence that everyone who takes action will be doing so in absolute solidarity with those most affected, by sunburn.Mr Sarkozy was quoted today as saying "social issues often heat up in is normal" [even though it's March?]. Some fear that continued and escalating strike action could see a return to extreme riots like those of May 1968 which rocked France and brought about the demise of the de Gaulle government.

Basque of the day:- holiday :: oporrak

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

economic pressures continue to pile on the stress

While the CEOs of Lloyds, Barclays, RBS & Co. were being grilled by the goverment today we were having an equally stressful and demanding day. After being rudely awoken by the sun around six this morning we were compelled to spend the whole day on the beach, even though at times it was unbearably hot. As you can see it was as busy as the Northern Line at 0815 on a Monday morning, traumatic.
I may not have the sharp suits, manicured nails and pension plans of Messers Varley et al but I like to think I still have a similar capacity for dealing with stress. I so hope it rains tomorrow...
Basque of the day:- tranquility :: baretasun

Monday, 16 March 2009

one for the ladies...

As mentioned I am painfully aware that summer is steaming towards us at full pelt. In order to retain the merest modicom of dignity when cafe culture takes to the beach I have been slowly shedding my City barrel. Whilst nowhere near a six-pack I like to think I now resemble a party keg rather than an oak cask. Daily I pound the sand toiling in salt soaked sweat. Every day my good lady also adorns her running shoes and heads out. We run at different speeds and she has told me she prefers to run alone. I was rather pleased with this, feeling it was an endorsement of my faster pace. Not so.

The firemen of St Jean de Luz are now undertaking daily morning training encompassing a run and swim before stretching on the beach. It transpires that my wife is spending as much time ogling the men as she does watching the sun rise over the mountains or the morning sea rolling in from the Atlantic. She reliably tells me that she finds it gives her added motivation. I bet it does. Rather than petty jealousy I am grateful to the firemen. Not only do they do a great job, there are plenty of ladies other than my wife who also enjoy jogging and ogling. They in turn provide me with motivation, it is all give and take.

[please note there is no way I was going to post, let alone take, photos of semi naked firemen, apologies!]

Basque of the day:- motivate :: eragin

Sunday, 15 March 2009

jour des lunatiques

Following up on the interesting conversations heard this week relating to effects of the moon I have spent a few days talking to locals about it. Results as follows:

- the French coined the word lunatic [lunatique] from the Latin for moon, 'luna'

- funeral professionals fight to avoid shifts around the full moon citing that there are more deaths around the time of the full moon than at any other

- Basque people still feed their babies medicine to help ward off the worms that are said to affect infant tummies during full moons

- on days around the full moon there are said to be more calls to the police, animal bites, insect stings and babies delivered

- almost half of all suicides allegedly occur during the full moon

- crime is reported to peak at the full moon and the following two days

- Europeans have long believed in 'Lycanthropy', humans turning into animals at the full moon; during the C16 thousands of French people supposedly lived as wolves in the mountains and attacked and ate unwary travellers

- humans and animals are meant to sleep less and be more 'frisky' during the full moon, hence the concept of howling at the moon

Basque of the day:- moon :: ilargi

Saturday, 14 March 2009

the things you see from your balcony

The Basques are a musical lot. Whenever there is an opportunity to sing or dance you'll find a willing Euskaldunak ready to pick up an instrument or break into voice. Today as I settled down to some reading, melodies drifted up to the apartment. Walking out onto the terrace the harmonies grew louder. Leaning over to see what was going on, fifty voices from the Herrian Kantuz choir singing Bagare lifted the sky.

Basque singing is beautiful, the phonetic language truly lends itself to music. Bagare is a lovely song from the region and well worth a listen. Basque of the day:- song :: kanta

Friday, 13 March 2009

modes de lune

There is a good deal of talk in these parts about the moon. People seem to know exactly which phase of the lunar cycle we are in and what the impact is. There is a belief that the moon affects everything from behaviour to weather. There was a full moon earlier this week and it has caused quite a stir. 'My dog was acting funny', 'my kids couldn't sleep', 'the birds were singing all night' are amongst a few of the exchanges I have noted. The weather on the day following the full moon is said to remain until the next full moon arrives. Given that it has been warm, glorious sunshine I am rather hoping it is true. More beach time would seemingly lie ahead.

Basque of the day:- moon :: ilargi

[Thursday entry]

We are having to adjust our body clocks. Life in a sun-drenched location by the beach calls for a different kind of living. If we are to have any hope of getting anything resembling work undertaken we need to change our way of being. The beach is always going to be the main draw so we are now seeking to rise around 0530, work through the morning, spend the afternoon by the sea then return to complete any tasks in the evening. It is weird. Today was day two of the plan and rather than check email I fell asleep - hence not making my midnight daily deadline.

There are a lot of pigeons in St Jean de Luz. We heard a very disturbing tale relating to their diet. There was an old man who died in his sleep. He was accustomed to sleeping with his window open. He knew few people in town being elderly, foreign and without family. His body lay for five days unaccounted for. A nauseating smell permeated the street. On arrival police noted that much of the face and body had been torn away, and that the plentiful crowds of pigeons in his apartment were looking particularly fat. Gross. Very Hitchcock.

Basque of the day:- pigeon :: urzo

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

jour de nourriture

I am trying to squeeze this entry in before midnight. We are just back from a heady happy dinner at the fabulous Chez Mattin in Ciboure. We dined on boudin noir, St Jaques, pave de morue and chocolate macarons washed down with some fine Irouléguy wine. Our friends Patricia and Jean-Jacques have delightfully arranged for me to start pelotta, I am to meet with a man at a certain time at a certain location, details will sent to me at a future date. I don't know whether to be thankful or fearful.

Basque of the day:- feast :: oturuntza

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

le printemps est arrivé

When the school children are out scrabbling along the coastline in search of crabs, anemones and other sea life, it has got to mean that winter is officially over. Today forty or so such participants led by their teachers (and friends) were doing just that. Aged six to eight they jumped from rock to rock trying to avoid the waves and fishing deep into the myriad of pools. No health and safety overdrive in these parts. Furthermore, none of them were obese or anything other than healthy. A joy to see after a recent trip back to Britain.

I now also appreciate why inhabitants of St Jean de Luz are so darned relaxed. When the sun arrives, as it has with considerable gusto, work is very much of secondary importance. Beach living is the main concern. It also probably accounts for why everybody is slim and athletic, one has to look good on the beach. I am now undertaking the mammoth task of trying to fit in.

Basque of the day:- diet :: dieta

Monday, 9 March 2009

toilet talk

An interesting few days. Saturday saw us shopping in Spain, yesterday brought skiing and today the beach. Variety is rife in St Jean de Luz.

Two swans have settled in the port, basking in the spring sunshine. There is something uplifting when the green man brings life back after winter. Not that winter down here is particularly troublesome but fresh shoots and happy wildlife always encourages a smile.

One of our friends had the audicity to suggest I currently look like a large tomato crossed with a red spotlight. Perhaps I enjoyed too much sun yesterday but I shall not hide [thank you P - you know who you are].

A while back I disclosed that I love dogs, hate pooh. Following Germany, Madrid has launched an initiative that will fine owners of dogs who foul the pavements EUR1,500. Interestingly they clearly state that such fouling can be canine or human - there is supposedly a significant 'old-man-taking-a-pee-in-the-bush' problem in the Spanish capital. I think it is a sterling idea. If cats can be litter-trained and babies potty-trained, why can't dogs pooh in designated areas and old men hold onto their bladders a little better?

Basque of the day:- toilet :: komun

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Pyrenees beats the Alps, no contest

Whoever said skiing in the Pyrenees was tame compared to the Alps had clearly never spent a hot March day pursuing the pistes of Barèges-La Mongie. It is a wonderful ski station situated about 30 minutes from Lourdes, 45 from Pau and 2 hours from St Jean de Luz. It offers everything any skier could want, including the longest blue run in Europe at 14 kilometres, easy but exhausting!

The sun was high in the sky, sun terraces full but not busy and by mid afternoon avalanches were rife. It is quite a sight to see a tsunami of snow disappear beneath your chairlift. Keyword for today was simplicity. We got to the slopes easily, hired the comfiest boots I've ever enjoyed, took the free bus from Barèges to the slopes, lunched in leisure, didn't experience any queues despite the glorious weather and were often the sole occupants of the wide pistes. Quite fabulous! We are hoping to return in a couple of days for some more powder fun, but only if my sunburn fades...
Basque of the day:- ski :: eskiatu

Friday, 6 March 2009

I blame the Americans

It was a stormy night. Admiral Hank Wannabe, commander in chief of the US Army special forces, was heading across the Atlantic with his men on a secret mission to attack south west France. Due to budget constraints aroused by 'le crise' the authorities had only filled the warship with enough fuel to carry its full cargo halfway. At that point there were two choices. Turn back or determine an alternative course of action. Being ever entrepreneurial, the American war hero chose the latter.

We awoke this morning to a beach crowded by gigantic sawn logs, plastic containers of US branded DIY products, barrels of liquor and dead fish. I can only surmise that this is the advance party for the imminent invasion. They have clearly offloaded their balast after consulting the cosmos and the storm has eagerly carried materials for makeshift camps, food and beverage onto the beaches to await the troops. This has enabled Admiral Hank to retain enough fuel to carry his men onwards.

St Jean de Luz is on a knife edge. All eyes scan the horizon desperately hoping they won't see the stars and stripes steaming towards them. It is a black day in Basque history.

What other cause for the beach debris could there be? The storm came from the direction of the mid Atlantic, beyond that lies America. We will not go down easily, for now is the time when we few, we happy few, we band of brothers must fight them on the beaches...

Basque of the day:- war :: gerla

Thursday, 5 March 2009

quelle crise?

Interest rates slashed? Quantitative easing underway? Unemployment soaring? Come to St Jean de Luz where the only crisis in evidence today was where to promenade or which cafe to sit in. It did rain a little though.

Basque of the day:- crisis :: krisialdi

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

afternoon tea with the ladies

Another difficult day in St Jean de Luz. Following a walk along the coast we headed to the local town of Ascain to visit our friend Pascale for afternoon tea. Ascain is nestled at the foot of La Rhune at the start of the Pyrenees. It is a charming traditional Basque town and its quiet beauty is a complete contrast with the buzzing busier St Jean de Luz.

Following the weekend I had just enjoyed I felt able to cope with another all girl situation. We readily consumed delicious freshly baked cake, drank coffee and discovered exactly who was sleeping with who and other pertinent local gossip. It may be fun drinking beer at the pub but sometimes girls' chat is far more interesting.

I must remember when I come back in my next life to be born in France, children don't have school on Wednesdays and get two hours lunch break on other days. After speaking with Pascale's delightful children I also learned that in French, Shaggy from Scooby-Doo is called Sammy and that there is no word in French for fairy - how impressively macho.

Basque of the day:- gossip :: hitzontzi

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

fine car

After returning from shopping in Spain yesterday we pulled up near the apartment while we unloaded the groceries. As I carried the last of the bags into the kitchen the smell of fresh bread proved too much and we set to lunch. Unfortunately it was not until the next day that we remembered that we had parked illegaly. Sure enough when I returned to the vehicle a plastic bound white letter waited for me wedged beneath the wind-screen wiper.

Tearing the document open I feared the worse having received one or two such items previously in London. I scanned the usual bureaucratic verbage and honed in on the fine. €11. Previously received manuscripts from London stipulated that if payment were not made within a week the fine would double, usually £35 to £70. Not so in St Jean de Luz. Besides being more moderately priced, transgressors have up to forty five days to make payment. Additionally, no having to send cheques using a postal service that barely works, one simply visits the local tabac and after stumping up the cost of three large chocolate bars the document is stamped twice (one portion is retained by the perpetrator by way of a receipt).

All done and dusted with minimum hassle. Furthermore, all done for considerably less cost than 24 hour parking.

Basque of the day:- municipal police :: udaltzaingo

Monday, 2 March 2009

rehearsals continue

The children are all back at school, the Parisians have gone home after the holidays, my wife's friends poured themselves back into cars and planes, and normality has resumed. Or has it?
Two weeks ago saw the start of rehearsals for St Jean de Luz's own full-scale version of 'All Quiet on the Western Front'. This week has already seen the the stage manager having a busy time. Not only have they recreated all of the the trenches needed on set after they had once again filled them in for the weekend, they are seemingly recreating the entire Western Front. A trench some 800 metres long was dug overnight along the length of Rue Gambetta. A sterling effort that must have taken a cast of thousands. Clearly the cast were exhausted after this trial and so clocked off early around half past ten this morning.
The trench is jolly impressive though and I am waiting with bated breath for hoardes of uniformed actors to commence tomorrow. A new machine has also been installed to recreate the sound of anti-aircraft guns. The guy in charge of the production budget must be nearing the bottom of his purse. I wonder if anyone famous will be taking part? (FYI - the method actor who was buried under concrete has yet to be seen again).
Basque of the day:- interruption :: etenaldi

Sunday, 1 March 2009

thankless task

Being the only man in the house on a girl's weekend was always going to be a tall order. The ladies stayed up drinking and laughing until the birds awoke this morning. As a result I slep-walked to church, lunched at La Plancha, ambled on the beach, bid the ladies adieu and went to bed as dusk staggered in; à demain... Granny's Day was celebrated in France today, a more serene version of Mothering Sunday.

Basque of the day:- yawn :: aharrausi (very much the noise a yawn makes)