Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Biarritz beach-time

Today I ventured a little way up the coast (15km) to Biarritz. My friend FX lives in the magnificent Bellevue and boasts having the apartment closest to the beach in Biarritz. He has a unique view. Lunch at the Miremont (carpaccio de boeuf) was wonderful. We sat in the upper floor next to a large double window opening out over the beach where we spent lunchtime in conversation whilst watching bathers and surfers. (Thank you FX!)

On return I read an interesting story about swine flu. Apparently if one catches the flu now and recovers then one is immune from the harsher strain forecast to hit us next winter. As such there are seemingly 'swine flu parties' being held in the UK where groups of people gather around somebody with the virus hoping to catch it from them. Are people really that insane?

Basque of the day:- beach :: hondartza

Monday, 29 June 2009

steamy daze in St Jean de Luz

It's getting hot and sticky in St Jean de Luz, just in time for the tourist season. The beach is crammed, ice cream vendors are plying a great trade and the erstwhile sleepy streets are busy well past midnight as revellers enjoy the balmy air.

On another note. I heard a report stating that the largest private sector employer in France is McDonalds. France is also reportedly the second largest market for the fast food chain. This does not bode well for the culinary traditions and sacosanct cafe culture of the French. One hopes that the French take strike action accordingly.

Basque of the day:- dinner :: afari

Sunday, 28 June 2009

deep in the Pays Basque

Leaving St Jean de Luz eaerly this morning I headed into Basque heartland of the Pyrenees with my friends Bruno and Pascale (together with their perfect children). After a two hour drive following the rhythm of the mountains we arrived at Les Gorges de Kakuetta.
One of the wildest spots in Europe, Kakuetta is described as the Amazonia of the temperate latitudes. The breathtakingly high dripping wet gorge winds through the Pyrenees for several kilometres before arriving at the Grotte aux Lacs. A stunning array of ancient stalactites and stalagmites create the feel of being in another world. Walking through the gorge is walking through history. At the entrance stands an C11th church, the gorge itself has been eroded over millenia. High above the rich vegetation has offered abundant pasture to herds of livestock over the centuries. Very little has changed in the gorge or in the surrounding villages. The sound of fauna and scent of flora have not altered. If you close your eyes you can imagine being in almost any century.

Basque of the day:- ancient :: antzinakoak

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Adam Sandler in St Jean de Luz

I feel like I have entered a St Jean de Luz film set of that classic 90's movie about the 80's. Over the past two days I have spent a combined fourteen hours at the weddings of people I don't know entertaining them, singing as part of a Basque choir.

Weddings in the Pays Basque are a good deal more relaxed and social than those I experienced in the UK. People seem to turn up to (and leave) the service as and when they want, drink is ridiculously plentiful (we get paid in drink!), there are no akward silences and everybody (literally everybody) sings. The men are men and the women are beautiful.

Both weddings took place in stunning C14th churches followed by receptions on mountainside farms with breathtaking views of the Atlantic and Pyrenees. As the choir we were treated with the utmost respect, singing is serious business in these parts after all. I am confident with most of the songs but hope that presently I can stop acting like Marcel Marceau on the others. A wonderful way to experience an otherwise hidden world.

Basque of the day:- wedding :: ezteiak

Friday, 26 June 2009

Basque song

I think I passed the test to be accepted into my choir in St Jean de Luz. Midway through practice last night I was presented with one black and one white shirt with the choir emblem on them (actually very tasteful). This was followed up by an explanation that I would be singing at two venues. I had agreed to this before I realised that one is today and the other tomorrow. We are singing nine songs, I currently know seven and have just over an hour to rehearse the others. I also have to squeeze in a flamenco class before singing. It's all go.

Basque of the day:- nervous :: urduri

Thursday, 25 June 2009

St Jean de Luz shopkeepers

St Jean de Luz is back to normal now after the festival. There is a ten day lull before the onslaught of tourists arrive in July. I like the fact that despite being Scottish I too am dreading the arrival of 'outsiders'. I do, however, recognise their importance. Without the plethora of wealthy visitors who will roam the streets over the next two months St Jean de Luz wouldn't be the town it is. So, to sacrifice one sixth of the year feels like a small price to pay.

My study offers me a wonderful down the main shopping street, rue Gambetta, and onto the Pyrenees beyond. There is one shopkeeper in particular I enjoy watching. A young chap, and clearly one with the ladies, he has a very pleasant lifestyle. Shop opens at 1000, closes for three hours at lunch then remains open till seven. He wears a different array of fashionable attire each day, so is clearly earning enough to make ends meet, and during open hours spends most of his time standing in the street drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes and talking to his brother shopkeepers (or any attractive girl he can persuade to dally). He seems very content with his lot although I have never actually seen him make a sale.

Basque of the day:- quiet :: isilkor

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

end of the St Jean de Luz festival

Monday was children's day in St Jean de Luz. The mayor laid on a massive picnic in the park for some 1,000 children. Parents attended too so it was quite some event. Throughout the day lines of children snaked through St Jean de Luz headed to and from the park. Given all the children wore identical black and red clothing, child management was reportedly quite a challenge.
Last night the festival came to an end. The 23rd June is officially the day of St Jean (which hopefully means an even longer festival next year). At ten pm Rue Garat was full of people. Lining the centre of the street were around fifty small fires aligned perfectly. The event was called the 'jumping of the fire' and everybody took it in turn to walk down the street jumping over each container. They were small so it was fairly easy. Somebody told me it will bring us all luck over the next year.
I have survived my first festival. It is quite spectacular. Music from dawn till dusk (and then till dawn), respectful wearing of black and red to celebrate, exceptional friendliness, much imbibing and yet another wonderful episode in our life in the Basque country. I probably won't miss loud bands waking me at an early hour after a heavy previous night, such as the example below which started at 0730.

Basque of the day:- tired :: nekatu

Sunday, 21 June 2009

sore heads in St Jean de Luz

After last night, today was a struggle. Try as we might it was impossible to catch up on sleep. Various bands marched up and down, round and about, high and low through the streets of St Jean de Luz. Everyone was in splendid form. The locals particularly enjoy the timing of the fêtes de la St Jean as it is the last event before the tourists arrive en masse for the summer. It has served as a wonderful reminder of how friendly people are down here and how willing they are to dance or sing at the merest opportunity.

We are beginning to feel accepted and though we are cognisent that we have a long way to go before we are truly embraced we love a challenge.

Tomorrow sees a children's day with a group picnic in the park, traditional games and junior choirs performing. In the evening a very civilised concert de aperitif is taking place and I am hoping to have recovered in time.

Basque of the day:- hangover :: biharamun

fête St Jean de Luz

The St Jean de Luz festival got into full swing on Saturday. Everyone was dressed in black and red to celebrate.

The afternoon and early evening were filled with Basque dance, a host of choirs sang to us over dinner as they did the rounds, dessert was capped with the traditional tree burning, too much was drunk and too much fun had.

I danced my first Basque dance, sang Basque in public for the first time, ate wonderfully, respected traditions but drank far too much.

The music and festivities have not abated for twenty four hours and I can hear another band walking up our street as I write. Fabulous.
Basque of the day:- party :: jai

Friday, 19 June 2009

return to St Jean de Luz

Apologies for the absence. A month of family and friends is a wonderful thing but something had to give.

Tonight in St Jean de Luz the annual festival began. A hundred traditionally attired children aged between eight and twelve paraded through town beating drums and singing Basque folk songs. Watching the throng weave amongst the white buildings with their ox-blood wooden flankings whisked us back in time. Thankfully our good friends Pascale and Bruno were on hand to take us to a bar, ply us with wine and bring us back to the present day.

Tomorrow promises the main event starting with our friends dancing in the main square followed by twenty four hours of partying in the streets of St Jean de Luz. Not quite the streets of San Francisco but a lot more fun.

Basque of the day:- return :: itzultze

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

changing weather in St Jean de Luz

We saw clouds in St Jean de Luz this evening for the first time in a wee while. Tonight as we walked along the beach, the Atlantic was threatening to throw rain (at least) in our direction. Besides the red sky that undoubtedly delighted many a shepherdess I am going to bed uncertain as to what weather I will awaken to tomorrow. An early night is required, three days after the festival ended my legs are still recovering.

Basque of the day:- muscle :: muskulu

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

holidays end in St Jean de Luz

St Jean de Luz is beginning to return to normal after its weekend of Flamenco. I on the other hand am still excited and filled with child-like joy after our exploits. I still can't quite believe that Fabienne got us to a position where we were able to confidently dance in public. Today we saw quite a few people who had witnessed our first forrays into the world of Flamenco. Far from laughing they neared congratulations.

The holiday weekend has finished, schools are back, 'les etrangers' have returned to their 'etrange' lands but far from being downbeat there is already talk of the Fete de St Jean de Luz which takes place on June 20th. It alleges to be some event.
In advance of that we have a myriad of friends coming to stay starting this week with a rowdy bunch. During the summer months, sleep is at a premium.
Basque of the day:- visitors :: bisitari

Monday, 1 June 2009

Flamenco parade in St Jean de Luz

The second day of the Andalou Festival in St Jean de Luz was outstanding. We began early with a service at the church. An Andalusian choir with 20 singers (and castanets) replaced the usual church organ, the first five pews were filled with children wearing Spanish dress rather than the usual more formally attired and mature congregation. As we were part of the Flamenco event (I dressed in black, my good lady in a yellow Spanish dress with rose in hair) we were sitting with the other adult dancers behind the children. We were a formidable sight. Halfway through the service, after our friend FX had spoken eloquently, 100 children danced sevillianas in the aisles, even the priest was clapping to the rhythm. The service concluded and we exited behind the choir boys, headed for the main square by now we were some 200 strong.

The police had cordoned off the centre of Place Louis XIV. The band-stand held musicians who readily struck up as we filled the central arena. Around the perimeter were 20 horses whose riders were dressed in traditional Spanish garb, stunning. Beyond them, and beyond the police perimeter some 600 locals and tourists watched on eagerly. For six months this is what we had been training for. For six months Fabiana has been saintly in her patience. Could we perform in public and retain a modicum of pride? Our fellow dancers ensured we did and with their support our confidence grew. After half an hour I even heard shouts of bravo from the crowd, and I knew it wasn't my mother, she was definitely in Scotland.

The horses began to organise themselves. Filing five abreast we lined up behind the riders and began a tour of St Jean de Luz stopping in various places to break into dance. We passed our apartment and many friends before arriving at the 'casetas' for an afternoon of dancing, drinking and tapas.

If you'd told me 3 years ago that I would learn to dance Flamenco and during the course of a day dance in front of more than 1,000 people and look back on that day as one of my finest, I'd have said you were mad. Fabiana, you are a superstar.

Basque of the day:- happy :: zoriontsu