Sunday, 26 April 2009

sand sculptures

St Jean de Luz has had a sand sculpture exhibition on this week. I was rather uninterested until I saw it, it's rather interesting and lovely.

We are heading back to Britain tomorrow, taking the ferry from Santander to Portsmouth. The weather forecast is none too good so it could be an eventful 24 hours. Combined with leaving the mother-in-law in charge of chez nous, I'd rather be staying put.

Basque of the day:- sick :: gaixo

Saturday, 25 April 2009

la belle mere?!

Well, my mother-in-law landed in St Jean de Luz today for the first time. Already the town has melted her. After a day spent in various cafes, listening to Basque music and enjoying delicious food there was no way she was going to be anything other than happy! As a result I now love St Jean de Luz even more.

Basque of the day:- surprise :: ustekabe

Friday, 24 April 2009

stepping out in St Jean de Luz

Today the girls of St Jean de Luz quite literally wiped the floor with me. After four months of flamenco lessons we were promoted to the upper class, it's a little like the transition from kindergarten to university. From having plenty of time to remember each step we were thrust fast forward to full-on flamenco fury. Besides dancing dangerously I had to attempt to retain a modicom of respect. Although the lovely ladies of St Jean de Luz were incredibly tolerant, that modicom disappeared before I had completed the first sevillana. Flailing arms, heavy feet and too much attention on holding my stomach in were largely the causes of my downfall. Despite Fabienne's excellent tuition, this is not easy.

[We are taking a trip to London next week so from Monday the blog will be mobile]

Basque of the day:- step :: urrats

Thursday, 23 April 2009

singing in St Jean de Luz

Tonight St Jean de Luz accepted me into the throng of one of their Basque choirs. It is a little like those all male Russian choirs mixed with a barbershop group; four tenor 1's, four tenor 2's and 4 baritones. After a couple of hours singing in Basque, remembering how to read music and taking instruction in French I was exhausted! Thankfully one of the baritones is a famous baker in these parts and came prepared with a large box of cakes.

We practice in a small room nestled in the port at Ciboure with fishing nets hanging on the walls and the smell of the sea filling the room, together with the heavy aroma of our choir mistresses old-school cigarettes. She plays accordion and smokes throughout, keeping us all in time and beckoning us on. One of the tenor 1's accompanies her on guitar, it is a fabulous musical experience and to be taken in by the group has truly made me feel like I have been accepted by the locals. I also recognised one of the choir as one of the pompiers my wife enjoys watching running in the mornings, think I'll keep that to myself.

Basque of the day:- choir :: abesbatza

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

point break

Ok, so St Jean de Luz doesn't immediately come to mind when you think of the great surfing beaches around the world but that doesn't stop it being a favoured pastime in the these parts.

Each morning the firemen seem to be hitting the waves, they are followed by morning classes (mostly school children), after lunch the newly appointed beach lifeguards pop out and then an afternoon class before the locals take to the sea after finishing work.

Ahead of signing up for a class I spoke to one of our friends. She has said the age worn adage "you don't need to bother with classes, just come out with us". A red flag should have been raised immediately. Instead I have agreed to their offer and hope to emulate Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze very soon.

Basque of the day:- surf :: olatu-apar

having a baby in St Jean de Luz

A friend of ours is expecting. We had coffee with her yesterday (she drank water). She explained that in St Jean de Luz everyone is treated the same in the health system regardless of means. All pregnant mothers, who wish a hospital birth, can be admitted to hospital up to one week before the due date. Each mother has a private room with food on tap, television and movies. Each mother also has the option of retaining the room for up to two weeks after giving birth. The same midwife and medical staff are used throughout to ensure the mother has as little stress as possible. All free of charge. A little more civilised than in other countries, even if it is also equally burdensome on the economy.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

bon dimanche

Sunday in St Jean de Luz is always a civilised affair. Today we began with a leisurely two hour breakfast on the terrace with Neil and Ashley. We ate fresh croissants, put the world right and watched on as the town came to life beneath us. Afterwards we wandered up Rue Gambetta to Place Louis IV for coffee, life here can never be rushed.
Lunch saw a return to one of our favourite restaurants, La Plancha at Ilbarritz. The sun shone brightly generating a dazzling array of colours as the ocean crashed onto the beach in front of us. After an ever delicious lunch (monkfish, dourade and gambas) we drove to the airport, said our farewells and headed home.
On return we had a brief sojourn and caught up with the local papers. Outside, the bustle of promenading shoppers created delightful ambient sound (St Jean de Luz is one of the very few places in France where shops are open on Sundays). Rue Loquin has been having a 'braderie' this weekend. The shops spill onto the street and there is a carnaval atmosphere. A group of musicians played and sang Basque songs which floated up to us on the gentle breeze.
We ended our weekend with a late afternoon tea with friends. They had made delicious sandwiches and baked a wonderful variety of cakes. We exchanged news and I managed to read some Beatrix Potter to our friend's children, translating from English into French (badly). I have a good deal of running to catch up on this week to compensate for eating too much and just as much French practice to look forward to. Moreover, following lengthy discussions with Neil and Ashley, I am feeling reinvigorated and have a far clearer sense of direction [thanks both!].
Basque of the day:- ambition :: xede handi
[monkey :: tximino]

Saturday, 18 April 2009

tous les jours

Saturday presented St Jean de Luz with another beautiful morning. Rising before the sun I set off along the coast to enjoy watching it appear from my favourite cliff-top vantage point. It being today I had my weekly coffee tutorial with Bruno. I have started to sound a little too much like Inspector Clouseau as I try to prounounce my 'oo', 'ou', 'eou''s etc, all very embarassing.

I returned to find my good lady and Neil enjoying croissants on the terrace. After petit dejeuner we strolled to the market to buy ingredients for tonight's risotto des crevettes. We headed to Biarritz for a quick walk along the beach before heading onto the airport to collect Ashley.

Neil suggested he would very much like an exact repeat of the last 24 hours before they head home tomorrow. It feels a little like Groundhog Day, but we are stuck in a lovely timewarp.

We discovered today that Neil has had three of his books make the Times Bestseller lists, two making #1 for several weeks, and several in the Amazon bestseller lists. The perfect mentor...

Basque of the day:- repeat :: errepikatze

Friday, 17 April 2009

St Jean de Luz sunshine

Dawn in St Jean de Luz promised yet another beautiful day. It didn't fail to impress. I am also rather pleased to say that today's flamenco endeavours likewise seemed to have impressed our teacher. She has asked me to dance in public in the main square in June. I fear I may have another pressing engagement that day.

Our friend Neil Simpson arrived today. He is a wonderful author of notable repute and I am hoping to pick up some tips from him during his stay. We toured the streets of St Jean de Luz and promenaded by the shore before finally arriving at Bar Basque for drinks in time to enjoy the evening sun. He hadn't said much as we slalomed the meandering tourists and I feared he wasn't impressed with the town. However, as soon as he had a drink in his hand he gushed forth raving about the wonder of the place. It was very sweet to hear and reminded me very much of my first impressions.

He implied that we were very brave to have turned our backs on our careers and previous lives. I looked around me as the sun dipped into the Atlantic and breathed in the sea air, it doesn't feel either brave or questionable. I now just need to convince him to run the bulls in Pamplona with me.

Basque of the day:- change :: aldaketa

Thursday, 16 April 2009

sunny St Jean de Luz

It was meant to rain today but it didn't. I was meant to do lots of work today but I didn't. I was meant to have a light lunch, instead I tasted calves tongue. I was meant to be abstemious but I drank plentifully. I was intending to have some time alone to think, rather I saw friends for coffee, friends for lunch and friends for apéritifs.

Basque of the day:- contrast :: kontrastatze

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

St Jean de Luz surf patrol

In St Jean de Luz the firemen/pompiers have it tough. Not content with making them run along the beach and go for a swim each day, today the boss forced them all to spend the morning surfing. They do say surfing is a must-have skill for firefighting. Only jealous.

This afternoon it rained so I finally ran out of excuses to work and spent the day in my study. I watched as various storms slid down La Rhune and washed away the tourists around town. There was a brief break in the weather so I sat outside for a coffee. As I imbibed the sound of very funky music ebbed and flowed. Being naturally curious, and looking for an excuse to avoid working, I ventured out to seek the music makers. Fifty yards down Rue Gambetta a group of very able musicians entertained passing tourists with a fab display of jazzy-brassy-latino music, the type you hear at rugby matches where notes are slid into and held in reverb. Lovely stuff.

It was of course impossible to get any work done, what with the sound of music and crashing of waves I could hardly hear myself think.

Basque of the day:- musician :: musikari

lunch in St Jean de Luz

It really is a small world. Having been fortunate enough to have travelled extensively we settled in St Jean de Luz. One of the primary reasons I elected for the town is that there are virtually no English speakers let alone British people. That didn't mean we weren't known though. There is a lovely shop called the Scottish (ok, am slightly biased). It transpires the lady who set it up is the godmother of the brother of the girl whom my mother is godmother too. Slightly convoluted but a link.

Our new friend visisted for lunch yesterday and we enjoyed it on the balcony. Still no sign of rain so still very little work being done.

Basque of the day:- terrace :: terraza

Monday, 13 April 2009

holiday monday

A fine day. We awoke to find that the magic Easter bell had delivered two chocolatey gifts to our door overnight. Imagine our surprise. It was exceedingly sunny and hot so we enjoyed the day on the beach and on or our terrace. The sun shone beyond 9pm and we listened as a neighbour practiced his flute on a nearby balcony. All was well in St Jean de Luz. I hope it rains one day so that I can get some work done.

Basque of the day:- hope :: itxaropen

Sunday, 12 April 2009


In St Jean de Luz they don't have an Easter Bunny. Rather than a clearly drug induced deliverer of chocolate eggs they have a far more sensible option, a magic bell that delivers 'les oeufs de Pâques'. What is wrong with people. From what I recall it was a stone that rolled down a hill, not a bell or an egg, and certainly not a chocolate egg. Ok, sourgrapes because I agreed to be healthy this year and not over-indulgent...gutted.

Eglise St Jean Baptiste is a large and architecturally astounding building. Shaped like a huge upturned, wooden container ship, there are three tiers or galleries of wooden seating in a u-shape all facing the impressive altar. Normally the main concourse and first tier are fairly full with around 600 people. Today there was a queue outside each entrance to the church. Within, over 2,500 people. Standing room only, and that was a crush. It felt a little more like a spectacle than a religious ceremony given the hoards, but it was quite an exhilarating experience.

We arrived 20 minutes before kick-off but still had to climb to the gods in the third tier to find a seat, apt really. From there we had a marvellous view of proceedings. This included being able to pinpoint people we knew and 'fainters' both of which there were several. After the service we headed to Place Louis XIV for hot chocolate and live music. This week a troupe of guitarists and mandolin players that we had seen in January at Auditorium Ravel played for the crowds with heady tunes of a Sicilian nature. Traipsing back down rue Gambetta we locked ourselves away from the tourists (why are there so many foreigners in our town?!) and prepared our Easter feast. Joyeuses Pâques!

Basque of the day:- happy Easter :: ondo izan Bazko garaian

Saturday, 11 April 2009

busy busy busy

St Jean de Luz is beginning to get busy. Easter weekend falls smack in the middle of all school holidays. The Spaniards have been with us along with the Toulousains for the past week and today has seen the arrival of the Parisians and the Bordeaulais. Rue Gambetta is awash with amblers. While it does mean getting to the boulangerie takes a few minutes longer it is fantastic for local businesses and does give a lovely air of happiness as people begin to enjoy their holidays.

Following the full moon on Thursday yesterday was saw umpteen million chats et chiens fall from the sky. Today it is trying to be sunny. I am hoping that this indicates a lunar cycle of mixed weather enabling a little work alongside a lot of leisure.

How we ever managed when we were working full time is beyond me. Since this time yesterday I have been for two runs, had a massage, undertaken my flamenco class, met three different people for coffee, been to church, been for a walk, thrown a dinner party and slept. Today I plan to catch up on some reading - a well earned rest.

Basque of the day:- busy :: lanpetu

Thursday, 9 April 2009

la lune

Walking through the winding streets of St Jean de Luz today I pondered how much my life has changed and just how happy life is in the Basque country. The sun was standing high in the sky cradling all in its warm embrace, happy children built fanciful sand castles on the beach, awestruck tourists marvelled at the beauty of the town and knowing locals chatted merrily with one another. It really is a universe away from stresses of economic life one reads about in the newspapers.

Tonight there is a full moon. Having lived here for six months we are now very aware of the importance of such events. Whatever weather we have tomorrow will most likely remain throughout the full lunar cycle. I am predicting rain. We had a strong, balmy wind this evening (always an omen of bad weather I am told) and as the sun set dark clouds began to appear across the ocean. Fingers crossed I am as wrong as I was in my predictions for the Grand National.

Basque of the day:- weather :: eguraldi

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

the amazing tractorman

St Jean de Luz has a wonderful beach. That wonderful beach is full of fine sand. That sand is continually trodden upon, washed-up on and treated with little respect by those who enjoy it. There is, however, one man who looks out for the little granuals. Day after day he protects their beauty; combing, cleaning and guarding the serenity. An anonymous man who craves no lime-light but ensures that the equilibrium between happy sand and happy beach-goers is maintained at all times. He is known as tractorman.

On his steely steed he patrols the town's coastline. He is a busy man, particularly at this time of year when the remnants of winter require more wholesale cosmetic work to be carried out along the beach. St Jean de Luz is in debt to him. Annually they pay some €240,000 to ensure he has what he needs to get the job done. And he does. The beach is impeccable and I am sure that the investment is repaid in multiples as tourists are drawn to the sandy shore to admire its beauty.

Tractorman, tractorman,
Does whatever a tractor can,
Can he swim? Can he fly?
I dunno better ask him why,
Look out, here comes the tractorman.

Basque of the day:- sand :: hondar

Tuesday, 7 April 2009


Our friend Francois-Xavier, how cool a name is that, visited for afternoon tea today. With him he very generously brought a gift. Having read this blog he knew I had a penchant for chocolate. However, there is chocolate and there is chocolate.

Miremont of Biarritz is king of that genre. Pralines amandes, écorces d'orange, caramel beurre, ganache elaborée, and more... Lots more... If ever you are in Biarritz, make sure to take time out to purchase and consume at least a little of this deliciousness. I wonder if they do hot chocolate?

Basque of the day:- chocolate :: txokolate

Monday, 6 April 2009

chats et chiens

It had to happen. Not since early February have we had any real rain. As the sun began to set clouds rolled down from the Pyrenees and set up camp above St Jean de Luz. The new terrace garden is finally getting the moisture it has been craving, and then some.

There is a full moon on Thursday. I hope the clouds shed their load by then and we are given another lunar cycle of heavenly weather. Saying that, it is nigh on impossible to get any work done while the sun is shining and the sound of waves floats up from the sea.
Basque of the day:- rain :: euri

Sunday, 5 April 2009

fêtes des rameaux

Palm Sunday in St Jean de Luz. The priest and his cohorts held a brief service at the port before leading a procession back to Eglise St Jean Baptiste. There were over a thousand people at the service, most holding/ waving palms. A far more civilised affair than last year's scrum in St Peter's Square.
We took coffee and croissants on Place Louis IV. A troupe of children partook in Basque dancing accompanied by local musicians. All very jolly.

Basque of the day:- coffee :: kafe

Saturday, 4 April 2009

cunning linguist

After watching 'Quantum of Solace' in in St Jean de Luz some six months ago, we finally watched it in English this evening. I think I understood the film better in French.

Friday, 3 April 2009

read all about it

I woke this morning wondering whether I had dreamed yesterday's whole midnight-guns-scary police thing, and then I opened today's edition of Sud Ouest. On P14 the entire story unfolded (in full below for those familiar with French). It transpires some 200kg of cannabis was seized, not a bad night's work. It is quite the talk around town, stress in these parts normally takes the guise of bad weather or too many tourists.

On another note, I watched President Obama's townhall meeting in Strasbourg on television today. He really is quite an incredible individual. Not only does he answer questions in plain English, which is a welcome blessing in itself, he appears to have exquisite mastery of leadership. I hope he can go further than Gordon Brown's talk of saving the world.

200kg de cannabis dans la voiture [Sud Ouest, p14, 3/4/9]
"La nuit de mercredi à jeudi a été mouvemementée dans le sud Pays Basque. Il est un peu plus de minuit quand un véhicle force un barrage dressé au niveau du péage de Biriatou, en direction de Bordeaux. La Police de l'air et des frontières en informe la brigade anticriminalité (BAC) basée à Saint-Jean-de-Luz, qui part en quête du véhicle au niveau de la gare de Saint-Jean-de-Luz. La BAC le repère et une course-poursuite s'ensuit dans le centre-ville luzien. Finalement, la BAC parvient à bloquer le véhicle au niveau de la rue Gambetta, et met en joue le conducteur qui continue de foncer sue les trois fonctionnaires de police. Finalement, ces derniers finissent par interpeller avec sang-froid, le chauffard, et en fouillant le véhicle accidenté, trouvent cachés 200kg de résine de cannabis. La police judiciaire de Bayonne a été saisie, il s'agit du maillon d'un vaste trafic international. Le conducteur, déjà bien connu des services de police, a été transféré à Bayonne où il est interrogé. A noter que personne n'a été blessé dans cette rocambolesque histoire."

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Philip Marlowe in Basque showdown

On the dusky silent street two amourous cats were flirting with one another as the church bells announced midnight. The smell of newly budding leaves carried as the light breeze drifted around the corners of the moonlit Basque buildings carrying with it the moisture of the preceding day. Romance was afoot for these feline friends. From the darkest end of the street car lights raced, exploding the silence in a gutteral choking of leadened engine. Screeching down the pedestrian street the cats fled. The car swerved between lamposts, just avoiding the newly dug maintenance trenches but hitting one of the felines. The way ahead was too narrow. Screeching joined the cacophony as the brakes were desperately sought. All too late. The car rammed into a side pillar and crumpled into the wall. Smoke billowed from the distraught engine. All was silent once more in the street. A newly lovelorn cat watched on from the safety of a nearby doorway. He knew that a dead man weighed more than a broken heart but felt none the better for this knowledge.

From above an apartment light flickered. A man leaned over his balcony craning hard into the gloom to ascertain the situation. He disappeared back indoors. Momentarily he reappeared at street level and approached the vehicle, unaware of what had caused the accident and concerned for any injured parties that may be in the car. The smoke billowed up into the starry silence. He was standing alone on the darkened street with only the cat to bear witness. He reached for the open door.

"Stop. Stop or I'll shoot!" roared an enormous bear of a man as he pounded down the street in army boots. He carried a semi-automatic pistol and had three others strapped to his vest. His huge arms stretched towards the man, sights fixed on his head. The man held his arms aloft conscious that if he was not careful twenty bullets would penetrate his skull in the next five seconds. "I live here, I came to check no-one was hurt." A car screeched around the corner to join the massive man who dropped his aim after assessing the situation. He strode across to the car, it was empty. "Did you see where they guy went" snarled the bear in a voice that would have been at home in deep underground caverns. His colleague joined him, adorned with a medley of machine guns and pistols. The man remained tense aware that he was caught in the middle of something significant. Six more cars each carrying three heavily armed men arrived. Three minutes had passed since the lovestruck cats had been playing happily together. The cat that had been hit gave an innocent bounce then remained still.

The bear barked orders to his men who ran off in difference directions. Reaching for the car he told the man to stand back before opening the trunk. No explosion. Inside were a dozen large boxes that had been securely but unprofessionally sealed with tape. The man was chaparoned away before he could determine their contents. He returned to his apartment and watched from his terrace. The men who had departed returned to the scene in time. The bear lit a cigarette and stood tall. His colleagues gathered around him. A mobile phone rang. Searching their combat fatigues none of the special branch officers could source the sound. The bear turned, it was coming from inside the car. He reached inside with a massive arm, when it reappeared a flashing phone vibrated in his paw. The men smiled at one another and slapped each other casually in a celebratory manner. The smoke from the car engine began to lessen. The heartbroken cat slunk off into the darkness. It was a cool clear night and the bear looked into the sky, he could see a long way, but not as far as the criminal had run, at least not at the moment.

This all happened last night. I still don't know what is in the boxes. [Please excuse any Chandlerisms]

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Monsieur la plante a planté ses plantes

We bought a watering can (arrosoir) today and built up our rooftop garden, lots of herbs and nice aromas. Fingers crossed it lasts till summer.

This evening was my parents last in St Jean de Luz for a while. We ventured out to Chez Mattin in Ciboure for supper. It is a restaurant with a big reputation but we fortunately secured the last table with a nine pm reservation. The restaurant design is hardly 'The Ivy' and the menu more limited than 'The Fat Duck' but the quality is unrivalled in these parts.

Starters included: fresh asparagus with poached egg, crab cassoulet, foie gras and Bayonne ham.

Main courses: skewered monk fish, pave de cod on a bed of squid and blue entrecote.

Desserts: tower of coffee puddings, banana flambe, creme brule and iced milk.

Wine: Irouleguy rouge.

All fabulous, a must have address in the St Jean de Luz / Ciboure area.

We wobbled home in time to hear the midnight chimes and toast in the start of the G20 summit with a large tumbler of Bowmore 18 year old. Slainte mhath!

Mum's the word...

My darling son has entrusted his parents to house-sit while he and Maria head back to Britain for the weekend. We plan to enjoy ourselves. The day started with us joining our hosts at their weekly Flamenco class - far too energetic for the older generation but a worthy spectacle all the same. One mystery was solved however, that of the Bobby question. It relates to Bobby Ewing of Dallas fame, someone I know and love dearly will have a lot to live down...

What can I say, the Red Army Choir and South Glamorgan Male Voice Choir will have to look to their laurels having spent an evening in the Church of St Jean de Baptiste enveloped in the wonderful sounds of the Basque Male Voice Choir - it was an amazing concert regardless of the fact that not one word was understood by our good selves! This was a gratis concert, which clearly appealed to our Scots blood, and seemingly encouraged half the region to attend. We arrived 20 minutes before it was due to start to find standing room only. The singers cut a dash dressed in traditional Basque colours set against the wonderful backdrop of the church itself. An evening to remember.

We unplugged everything potentially dangerous and headed off on a trip to Zaragoza in Spain. A motorway accident lengthened our journey so it was siesta time when we arrived at the Castille. It was splendid albeit from the outside and shall be visited again in the future. However, the basilica of St Pilar was open and its wonderful cupola and many Goya masterpieces were beyond belief, a joy to behold.

We left Zaragoza to drive to Olite, the wine centre of Navarre to stay in a C15th castle that was renovated last century into a Parador. Our baronial sized bechamber offered amazing views across the vineyards. Parador's are splendid, especially if you are over 55 when you are elgible for a 30% discount.

Having successfully remembered the daylight saving time change and partaken in a sumptuous breakfast we found ourselves beating the masses to the castle adjoining the Parador. The restoration has been sympathetic and after struggling up the spiral staircases the views afforded to us were quite spectacular, if a little blustery - the tower is appropriately named 'The Tower of the Four Winds'. The scenery as we drove back to St Jean de Luz through the Pyrenees was spectacular and we even put the roof down on the car, it felt wonderful. Furthermore, the sun has shone non stip since we arrived!

Thankfully the apartment and cat were still standing upon our return. Today we took it a little slower and sat out on the terrace reading for most of the day. The kids get back early tomorrow so we wanted to enjoy some peace and quiet together.

We got up early to collect the youngerlings from the airport, my son was his usual cheery self after an early start without breakfast. We got them home, fed and watered them before sending them to gather some rest. After all these years he is still grumpy when he is hungry and tired, but I am confident my daughter-in-law has learned exactly how to deal with his tantrums. We love him dearly even if at times I don't always like him! End of mother's report.