Sunday, 31 May 2009

St Jean de Luz flamenco festival day one

A third of the way through the Festival Andalou in St Jean de Luz and we are still surviving, albeit some four pounds lighter. I don't think I have danced so much since I was 18 years old. The focus of the festival this weekend is held at 'casetas' at the far end of the beach. A series of small tents have been erected in a long line along the promenade with a stage and various dance floors forming the central apex. Each tent offers different wares to the weary dancer (and/or drinker). From tapas and gambas to cider and sangria there is a little of something for every taste.

Yesterday evening we spent several hours at the Jai Alai where Antonio Najarro and his wonderful Compania de Danza performed quite brilliantly. The dancers were all quite beautiful both in form and movement. The theme was 'jazzing Flamenco' and fused together both musical genres quite spectacularly in a set of highly sensuous sequences. Exhausted from watching we returned to the 'casetas' for some well deserved cocktails and tried to emmulate the dancers we had been watching. I fear it was sangria fuelled bravado but I thought I did pretty well. That was last night, this morning as I drink five pints of water and nurse a sore head I am less sure. It all starts over again in two hours.

Basque of the day:- Spain :: Espainia

Saturday, 30 May 2009

hotting up in St Jean de Luz

The Festival Andalou has begun in St Jean de Luz. Throughout town you can hear Flemenco music and everybody is making arrangements to meet this evening. We strolled along to the 'casetas' this afternoon to take some lunchtime tapas and watch some excellent dancing. Returning home to escape the sun for a few hours we are readying ourselves for our first real local festival. I noted that quite a few chaps from my choir are manning the bars. A double-edged sword: easy access to drinks but they will also see me dancing! It is going to be a long night.

Basque of the day:- festival :: jaialdi

Friday, 29 May 2009

beach time in St Jean de Luz

The hottest day of the year so far in St Jean de Luz. Appropriately I spent it on the beach with my wife and fake-daughter, Charlotte. Although it was a work day, a school day and not a special day in any way other than being decidely sunny, the beach was jammed with people. I think this weekend will be incredibly busy which is good news for the town. The weather forecast is excellent.

We had our final Flamenco class before this weekend's Festival Andalou. Thankfully, after two hours non-stop sweating and swearing I think we have it cracked. Our class even gave us a standing ovation which was very sweet. I hope we feel as confident when we come to dance in public tomorrow. Fabiana is a superstar teacher and she will be showing of her considerable talent alongside Antonio Najarro, the best Flemenco dancer on the planet.

Basque of the day:- confident :: buru-lasai

St Jean de Luz sea shanty

The Basque choir I have joined in St Jean de Luz is nestled in the harbour. Picture a large C shape. The mouth of the sea opens onto the beach/sea. At either head of the C are St Jean de Luz and Ciboure. The towns spread around the C and meet at its back. In the middle of the C is a spit of land that houses the fishery buildings. In one of these buildings is our club.

This evening as we were rounding off a song there was much excitement as several of my fellow singers opened the windows and began yelling. A large fishing boat from Bilbao was pulling into the harbour. It was the first sardine boat of the season and many of the fishermen on board were friends of the choir. Not only did this remind me of the importance of fishing in these parts, it also reinforced the extent of the Basque country with its transcendence of national borders.

The choir and fishermen were from opposite ends of the Basque country. Indeed, they are from different nations. However, their bond and jovialitywas born of both friendship and an appreciation of importance of this first catch.

Basque of the day:- fisherman :: arrantzale

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

summer arrives in St Jean de Luz

Today it was not warm in St Jean de Luz, it was hot. The weather forecast for the next week is fantastic which fares well for the Festival Andalou this weekend. It was difficult to achieve much more than lazy reading in the sunshine.

Basque of the day:- reading :: irakurtze

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

sorcery in St Jean de Luz

There are witches in these parts. Today I think I met one in St Jean de Luz and learned a little of their practices. For fear of anything untowards occurring I shall not dwell on this subject.
We spent much of the day out on a walk exploring the Basque architecture of St Jean de Luz. Other than the busy close-knit centre there are two or three more airy residential areas. All remain true to the white-washed Basque style, speckled in either ox-blood or deep green wooden shutters and finishings. I wasn't sure how much I liked the architectural style, which is almost Tyrollean in appearance, when I first arrived. It has grown on me significantly. Given that in days past large families lived together, many of the houses are immense. This is less common these days although still exists.
Basque of the day:- house :: etxe

Monday, 25 May 2009

Spanish in St Jean de Luz

Spanish is spoken in St Jean de Luz almost as much as French. With the Basque tongue resurging following many years of suppression, many people are trilingual. Tonight we watched Etreintes Brisées (Los Abrazos Rotos) at Le Rex cinema, a beautiful Spanish film by director Pedro Almodóvar starring Penelope Cruz. A wonderful film. Perhaps I am beginning to assimilate Latin culture but there is a depth to French and Spanish films that I rarely find in UK or US offerings.

Although the remnants of the storm remained ominously overhead, the beach was busy. A kayak competition took place with bronzed surf types eagerly rowing out to a distant point at sea before returning poste haste. Their kayaks had large stabilisers on one side to counteract the force of the sea. Much to the pleasure of the myriad of female spectators there was a good deal of muscular flesh on show.

Basque of the day:- sport :: kirol

Sunday, 24 May 2009

stormy St Jean de Luz

Tonight there was a storm in St Jean de Luz. I don't know why this Basque corner of the Biscay has so many lightening strikes but they are wonderful. Tonight's began in absolute silence but grew in anger as the rain and hail started to scour the town. Any words of wisdom on why we experience so many such storms in these parts would be most appreciated.

Basque of the day:- storm :: ekaitz

Saturday, 23 May 2009

St Jean de Luz and steamy music

Today it was hot in St Jean de Luz. Very hot. After spending most of the day melting on our rear terrace I escaped the heat for a drive in the mountains. With the roof down I sang loudly the various bits of Basque music I had managed to memorise. I was en route to my now weekly session with our choir mistress and the practice was necessary. Today we covered an additional three songs. There is much to work on.

This evening there was the first ever festival of four cultures in Ciboure. Our friend Francois-Xavier was dancing flamenco and we figured we'd go support him, catch up with other friends and have a generally fab time. We weren't wrong. The event took place under a large part open sided tent erected on the banks of the port looking out to the sun setting over the Basque Sea. After a more formal start to the evening a local Basque band took to the stage and orchestrated group dances, in much the same way as I had seen callers call ceilidhs in the past. We were both soon swept up in the throng and mimicking the others around us with some effect. Some were surprisingly similar to Scottish dances. Following several lengthy passages of movement we decided to escape, we have much ahead of us. Fireworks lit our way home, exposing a private dinner that was going on in one of the fisheries. Tonight has been a wonderful appetiser for the festival next weekend. There are so many excuses to party down here I am almost, but not quite, ashamed.

Basque of the day:- indulgence :: asetze

sevillanas in St Jean de Luz

Next weekend in St Jean de Luz there is an Andalusian Festival. At this festival we have been told that we, as a class, will follow our leader Fabiana in a series of public dances. Nightmare! Whilst I am comfortable with 3/4 of the dance, the final 1/4 is still eluding me. Despite the constant kind words from my teacher I am struggling to keep up with my Basque classmates who have all clearly been born into the Basque heritage of music and dance. Wherever I go in St Jean de Luz there is music. Whenever a chance arises there will always be someone willing to sing or dance. It is an important aspect of society deep rooted in local culture. Despite many years of ceilidh dancing I am struggling to keep up. Seven days of serious practice lie ahead.

Basque of the day:- dance :: dantzatu

Thursday, 21 May 2009

ascension day in St Jean de Luz

Today is Ascension Day which means St Jean de Luz is on holiday (holy day) to celebrate accordingly. L'eglise Saint Jean Baptiste was standing room only this morning for the ten o'clock service. The mass also celebrated 100 years of the local l'Arin choir (newly found competitors to my outfit) who sang quite beautifully, a very grown up choir. I continued my learning about Catholic traditions and decorum. For the last few weeks the pere has been taking a break midway through the service and walking down the main aisle splashing water on the congregation using a branch of some sort. I am sure it all means something profound and should really ask somebody. Given our now regular attendance and given we tend to sit in the same pew we have befriended a local Basque chap with whom we discuss news from the town in broken French/Basque.

After the service we arranged to meet our friend Francois-Xavier to take coffee in Place Louis XIV. Given it was nearing midday we opted for Ricard, marvellous. Walking down Rue Gambetta afterwards we decided that it would be impolite not to have lunch so headed for a delicious cous-cous of lamb and merguez before jumping head first into a large helping of gateaux chocolate. This was of course washed down with a couple of glasses of vin rouge, again manners must. By the time we were replete the sun was high in the sky and the myriad of tourists crowding the streets. In search of some tranquility we walked out to the point at Sainte Barbe and watched the waves breaking in from the Atlantic. It was now time for coffee so we went in search of our local Cafe Vauban before returning to the apartment to continue our lengthy conversation which by now had covered Catholic ritual, Basque mythology, the French view on current UK politics (which was interesting) and local flora and fauna.

Around five pm we waved goodbye to FX, all in agreement that today had been a good day. He is a lovely chap from a family deep rooted in these parts. We have arranged to catch up again on Saturday when he is dancing Flamenco at the Festival of Four Cultures in neighbouring Ciboure. We don't know what the festival is all about but do know that it is the first of a dozen or so very social festivals that take place over the coming months. People in these parts are not shy about having fun.

Basque of the day:- festival :: jaialdi

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

St Jean de Luz weather

In St Jean de Luz one is rarely dressed correctly for the weather. In any given day one can be under an umbrella, swimming in the sea and sheltering from the wind and/or sun. It is rather like Scotland in that there are a myriad of conditions within a short space of time, although it is very much warmer and there is far more sunshine.

Our friends here moaned about how dreadful winter was, to me it lasted about two weeks and even that was bearable. Since April it has been warm if not hot with everything taking place outdoors. Even before then we had managed to squeeze a few days onto the beach. I am led to believe that the warmth and sun will be with us until late October with the caveat that on every third day it will rain, to date it tends to rain late afternoon on every second day. Given we arrived in October last year I can testify that it was indeed warm then and I was swimming in the sea daily. So summer is basically seven months, autumn lasts through November and December though is pleasantly warm if wet, my final swim of the year was 22nd December. Winter the two aforementioned weeks in January, including a touch of snow and a hurricane, with spring filling in the time from January till April.

Back to daily weather routines. Most mornings we awake to sunshine hitting the mountains. By mid morning we are either still enjoying sunshine, in which case it tends to stay sunny all day, or there is light cloud. On days like the latter the light cloud clears by lunchtime but portents rain later in the day which either sticks into the night or clears for a pleasant evening. All changes revolve around the tidal patterns which are accompanied by sharp winds with added precipitation courtesy of the Pyrenees. I will agree that it is like a warm Scotland, though I am yet to see any midgies. Also, the Basques don't seem quite so hung up on the weather as we have been used to, weather news lasts seconds rather than minutes.

Basque of the day:- weather :: eguraldi

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

cinema in St Jean de Luz

There is a lovely traditional cinema in St Jean de Luz called 'Le Rex'. It sits on the main Rue Gambetta and could easily be wandered past were it not for its large art-deco signage. From outside it looks relatively humble but that is a ruse. Inside the plentiful foyer flows past the ticket desk and confectionary booth up the main staircase to two screening halls. There is a gaslit red velvety feel throughout, it feels very like stepping back in time. The main hall is the same size as one would expect from a hall in the UK or America but rather than cramming in as many seats as possible it is kindly appointed with both width and leg room. The seating itself is more akin to an armchair than a church pew. Hall two is somewhat smaller and more intimate, more like a private cinema in a luxury hotel.

The proprietor, Xavier, is a kindly fellow. He works hard but always has time for a smile, quick chat and movie recommendation. He ensures that there is always a good mix of films being shown every week ranging from big blockbusters and action movies to art-house films and documentaries. Being still far from expert in the French language it is particularly pleasing that he also shows films in 'version originale' - including English. Tonight we watched 'Anges et Démons' (in French) which was not nearly as bad as the critics had made out, although there was much said that remained not understood. Such is the success of Le Rex that Xavier is opening another three screen cinema at the end of this year, I just hope that Le Rex remains as wonderful an experience as it is now.

Basque of the day:- entertainment :: entretenitze

Monday, 18 May 2009

taking a break in St Jean de Luz

In St Jean de Luz, and throughout France, they have their priorities right when it comes to working. Besides a loose start time of 0930, mandatory minimum two hour lunch break and assurance that all is wrapped up by 1830 at the latest there is the small matter of public holidays. It is actually more than just the public holidays. Such days seem to always fall on a Thursday or Tuesday. Given both are so close to the weekend it would be folly not to take the adjoining days as unofficial holidays too - a bridge to the weekend or 'pont'. This is done with much gusto and little conscience, rightly so.

This month the following dates are to be enjoyed: May 1st, 8th, 21st, 22nd (pont), June 1st. So, out of a possible 22 work days, 5 are holidays - brilliant.

Basque of the day:- holiday :: oporraldi

Sunday, 17 May 2009

singing and shopping in St Jean de Luz

The teacher from the choir in St Jean de Luz that I have been attending called me requesting that I visit her yesterday. I felt this was going to a be a sure-fire rejection, that no Scotsman was able enough or conversant enough in Basque to sing with the choir. Rather it was a two hour practice and I am officially 'in'. I just had to promise that I'll practice lots.

The teacher lives in Hendaye which is a lovely wee coastal town some 5km south of St Jean de Luz. It is the most south-westerly town in France and has a fabulously large beach that is highly favoured by the surf community - they hold international competitions there. The town itself is typically seasidey set on a spit of land, that runs parallel to the sea. At the unattached end of the spit the mouth opens into a marina with a natural harbour. It is also almost exactly on the border with Spain.

Returning after my vocal vexing my wife decided she wanted to go shopping in St Jean de Luz as there was a braderie on. Only she would be able to ignore all the shops that were massively discounted, head straight to the most expensive in town and purchase a dress with all associated trimmings. To be fair, it is quite a stunning piece that I had noticed previously. We are attending a big wedding in London next month and she wants to look her best.

Basque of the day:- fashion :: janzkera

Friday, 15 May 2009

that Friday feeling in St Jean de Luz

It was a grim day when we awoke. Made grimmer by the prospect of a long to-do list. By noon we had completed most of the more urgent action points and the clouds had worn themselves out so we retired to the terrace for a spot of flamenco practice. Our last class was almost three weeks ago and we have had little time to practice since, such is the hectic life of us Luziens.

Fabienne was not impressed. Normally she is strict with me, today she made me pay for my errant ways. The merest arm out of alignment or delayed foot movement was lambasted by forked tongue. I know she is only doing so in jest but she has spent so much time working with us that I was obliged to feel rightly guilty. The weekend 30/31 May presents the Andalucian Festival in St Jean de Luz with flamenco, sangria and tapas galore. It is expected that from dawn till dusk, and for several hours thereafter, we partake in abundant bouts of frenetic dancing. It all seemed like such a good idea a couple of months ago, with the prospect of dancing in public looming imminently I am now less certain.

Basque of the day:- humility :: apaltasun

Thursday, 14 May 2009

singing in St Jean de Luz

Mon dieu! The choir I have joined in St Jean de Luz is a little more expert than I had bargained for. Besides the tri-linguistical challenge of understanding French instruction for Basque songs whilst trying to read music I have found myself singing with a group of chaps who are far more proficient at holding a complex tune than I. Fortunately my fellow Tenor 2's are exceedingly nice and play down my constant apologies and thanks for their patience. It ain't easy.

Just as I was settling into an understanding of the first song this evening one of the chaps disclosed that they tended to sing at fairly heavy hitting venues, including internationally, including Scotland, including singing at Celtic Park. Hmm, there could be quite a challenge ahead of me, I just hope that I can do my country proud. When the singing begins I do feel Basque, even if only for a moment. The music and songs are wonderfully mystical, even if I don't really know what they are about. There is a true sense of history and pride in every note. To be accepted by this throng is one of my highlights to date.

I will have to brush up on my sporting knowledge as they tend to know exactly who plays in which rugby and football team together with resulting scores, including those in the lesser divisions in Scotland.

Basque of the day:- acceptance :: onartze

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

St Jean de Luz lunch break

The weather in St Jean de Luz continues to be unabashedly warm. Being a Scot I am utterly not used to living in this kind of climate, but I am relishing it. No cat call this morning but we were in the sea and back again in good time to hear the end of the Today programme (one of our few hangovers from Britain). Rushing to get our chores completed we managed to escape early this afternoon for a long walk. By the time we had walked for an hour, as well as visiting the very sweet local library, we were ravenous. Our outing drew to a close over a healthy portion of salmon tarte and frites followed by the obligatory chocolate crepes, it makes the daily jog so much more meaningful. Cafe Vauban is a truly French cafe: relaxed, unconfused, tasty and with enough pretension to help you enjoy yourself. It's one of our favoured haunts in St Jean de Luz.There is some cloud cover at the moment though I can see La Rhune quite clearly and off into the Pyrenees. It really is a wonderful view from my office, slightly different to my previous internal open plan set-up on London Wall. Humidity levels have risen during the past hour and I feel a storm brewing out over the ocean so I had best get outside before the rains come for an hour or so of well deserved relaxation.

Basque of the day:- storm :: ekaitz

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

sunshine on St Jean de Luz

The perfect morning in St Jean de Luz. The cat woke us up around half five, proudly purring over her new furball. Light was beginning to peer over the peaks of the distant Pyrenees, illuminating the blue sky that would soon be enveloping us. It seemed like a good idea to get up.

Surprisingly we were far from alone as we enjoyed an early morning run along the coastline, clearly today was rousing more interest than simply our own. By eight a.m. it was unseasonably warm. Braving the elements we dove into the spring sea, the finest way to truly wake up, and swam a length of the beach, more would have been foolish. Laying on the beach to dry off we gazed at the few wisps of cloud that were being readily gobbled up as the sun rose higher. Stopping to buy some fresh bread and pastries at our favourite boulangerie we were back home by nine.

This afternoon we ventured back outdoors. The temperature had continued to accelerate all morning and the once empty beach was now entertaining all manner of practice; from chattering mothers and delicate grand dames delicately dipping their toes in the as yet icy sea to cavorting lads playing rugby with evermore energy as they fought for the attention of local girls. Most uplifting were the gym classes that were being held. Two teachers cajoled thirty or so young children in various hand-eye co-ordination initiatives, very funny to watch, particularly the tantrums. It is too hot to get much done other than simply relax and enjoy the moment.

They have recently upgraded the beach webcam and we can frighteningly be spotted from time to time.

Basque of the day:- heat :: bero

Monday, 11 May 2009

meanwhile, back in St Jean de Luz

Departing the south coast of England we decided this had been our most enjoyable trip back since leaving the UK. We saw many lovely people and wonderful places, enjoyed a plethora of sensations and experienced first hand what Britain is currently going through. From the Ferarri openings and City lunches it does feel that the UK will weather the storm.

Our last day was crammed with last minute purchases (HP sauce) though I managed to squeeze in a couple of meetings with a few City big boys which was interesting as always. We made the ferry in plenty of time though after ten days of good weather Friday night served up a delightful storm as we crossed the Bay of Biscay. A large tumbler of whisky provided the necessary medicine. And so, back to the hectic hussle and bussle that is daily life in St Jean de Luz.

This morning as I drove through the Pyrenees with the top down the sun hit my sunglasses blinding me momentarily. For an instant it reminded me of being struck by the bright lights of a projector that might have occurred during a presentation or other in my previous life. When my vision was restored I breathed a sigh of relief and thanks as the mountains came back into view, spreading down the valley towards the Atlantic and our home in St Jean de Luz.

Basque of the day:- thanks :: eskerrik asko

Thursday, 7 May 2009

cats and the City

Another eventful few days in London. Sunday saw us visiting our intelligent professor friends in Canterbury: a party fuelled by conversation I struggled to keep up with amidst delightful and accommodating company. Monday we visited our old home in Kent and caught up with lovely friends for a roast dinner (we do miss such suppers!).

Back in the day we were fortunate enough to work with a marvellous man called Mark Edgerley who has single handedly created something amazing. Some six years ago, after many years working in the wilds, he determined to create a place where he could care for endangered big cats resuced from bad places and circuses around the world with a view to helping them recover and encouraging them to breed and retain the species. When last we saw him he had some 18 big cats, he now has 30 healthy beasts and wonderfully this includes the first cubs: two Siberian tigers and two pumas. He is a great man and worthy of more credit than he could ever receive (Wildlife Heritage Foundation).

We have also seen a host of interesting people: Mervyn King, Cleo Roccos, Chris Eubank, Paddy Ashdown and yesterday I managed to walk on set while Keeley Hawes was filming something or other. I also saw the new Ferarri shop launch on Regent Street, given the economy, interesting timing...

More dinners and drinks and socialising has filled the remains of this week. We have been staying in London with our good friend Julie, she is publishing editor of the only woman's fashion magazine worth its salt, buy Look, even I enjoy it and my wife has a new style guru! Today was my City day and I caught up with friends who are still very much embroiled in all things financial. They looked remarakbly well and willingly imbibed in long coffees and lazy lunching despite the crises that seeped out of the historic walls around us. Top chaps one and all, even if they suggested visiting the ever-brilliant l'entrecote for steak frites, like I don't get to eat French food in St Jean de Luz guys (DW, joke)!! The day came to an end with a contradiction, an enjoyable trip to the dentist. If ever you are in the City and have need to see a man who can, Oliver Harman is he - dentist to the famous and needy alike.

The photos attached I took this week. Given the wine I have enjoyed I can't remember if they are of the big cats or the fat cats!

Basque of day:- magazine :: aldizkari

Sunday, 3 May 2009

more fun in the London sun

Whilst nowhere near as nice as in St Jean de Luz (where it is sunny every day of the year) the weather has been lovely this week. We have continued our catching up and touring. Since my last entry we have had a British roast lunch, a day's Gucci shopping, been to three fab and famous restaurants and listened to some lovely concert recitals by a lake. London may be inordinately busy and stressful but there really is a wonderous amount that goes on here.

Basque of the day:- variety :: desberdintasun

Friday, 1 May 2009

from St Jean de Luz to central London

Three days into our stay in London and I had quite forgotten just what it's like being in a mega city with millions of other people. It is quite a world away from the quiet luxuriousness of St Jean de Luz.

In the space of a little over 72 hours we have seen eight sets of friends, been to a board meeting with an international charity, visited the Tate Modern, visited the National Portrait Gallery, watched the May Day march, been invited to a celeb OK party, walked eighteen kilometres along the Thames and its many tourist sites, eaten Japanese, Indian and Italian food and had a few pints of proper beer. The highlight was the NPG, if you ever have an afternoon to spare I highly recommend taking one of the daily guided tours, fascinating.

Tomorrow and the days thereafter promise even more. We are cramming as much in as we can before we return to our stressful life in the Basque country. All very exhausting but fabulous fun.

Basque of the day:- crowd :: jendeketa