Wednesday, 21 October 2009

pigeon patrol in St Jean de Luz

Today the pigeon catchers were out in St Jean de Luz. There is a problem by the end of the summer with the flying beasties. They are nothing like their countryside cousins who are clean living and taste delicious. The urban variety are simply scavengers and even I wouldn't eat them.

After laying their trap, poisoned grain, the trappers played a waiting game. They waited, and waited. The trap was laid some two hours ago and still the pigeons sit in the trees above. Even they seem to know there is no such thing as a free lunch.

Basque of the day:- pigeon :: urzo

Monday, 19 October 2009

art in St Jean de Luz

Whilst walking along the coast near St Jean de Luz the other day I got a bit of a shock. Rounding a headland I was greeted by a hundred large jellyfish floating in the air. Well that's what I think they were meant to be. Attached to enormous poles the jellies were each some fifteen metres in length and swayed gently in the clifftop breeze. I think there is a planned invasion of the Basque country afoot. Wiser thoughts on the subject welcomed.

Basque of the day:- jellyfish :: marmoka

Sunday, 18 October 2009

marching near St Jean de Luz

Yesterday some ten thousand people massed near St Jean de Luz in the town of Bayonne. The demonstration was to defy new plans to build a tunnel through the Pyrenees and in so doing, destroy many villages' soul. It was a successful march that wound through the delightful old town. Given sensitivities over all things Basque demonstrators had been urged not to display overt Basque sentiment for fear of rousing passions. A rather feeble proclamation.

Despite the authority's efforts, and although we demonstrators refrained from politically motivated Basque chants, there were a myriad of large signs in Basque, traditional music was played as we walked and many people were speaking the language (I had to explain why I wasn't able to which was a challenge).

There were of course some politically motivated people in the crowd distributing leaflets about Basque people who were being wrongfully held in prison. In any other circumstance I would have thought them militant but during the last century there have been thousands of people wrongfully imprisoned or worse still, disappear. The Spanish and French governments have done their best to expel all things Basque but the harder they try the stronger the culture becomes.

Basque of the day:- demonstrastion :: manifestazio

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Basque rally

St Jean de Luz has been a hive of activity this week. Everybody has been coralling friends, family and neighbours. This afternoon as many Basque people as possible (plus friends) will descend on Bayonne. We will be demonstrating against the wanton destruction of countryside by those who place efficiency before heritage, euros before respect. If building of the proposed LGV goes ahead I fear that it will cause problems the authorities hadn't wagered on and will lose them much support of the people.


Basque of the day:- LGV :: boom boom

Friday, 16 October 2009

breakfast in St Jean de Luz

The first hour of sunlight is one of my favourite times in St Jean de Luz. I try to get out for a run just before the sun rises, heading up a sleepy Rue Gambetta, past Ravel's house, back along the promenade and up to the little hill at St Barbe that sticks out into the ocean. If I time it right I catch a wonderful glimpse deep into the Pyrenees while the air remains crisp and clear.
Having spent most of my life living in cities it is still a shock to see such vast views everywhere I look. When I lived in cities I was concerned with my immediate vicinity, down here I have so much to take in that any concerns readily dissolve. It is a joy.
St Jean de Luz is nestled deep in the Basque country, right in the corner of the Bay of Biscay where France meets Spain. There are often many aeroplane contrails lining the sky, and they all seem to take a similar change of direction directly above. I imagine such a perpendicular geography makes an easily identifiable landmark, reminding pilots of their route.
First thing in the morning it is a busy route for long-haul flights from Spain, Africa and northern Europe but thankfully they are all flying so high there is no noise pollution, only Etch'a'sketch scribblings. All those people heading to so many destinations oblivious of the worlds beneath them.
Basque of the day:- big :: handi

Thursday, 15 October 2009

St Jean de Luz kindergarten

A friend from St Jean de Luz seconded me into babysitting duties today. Rather than sit around playing a game or watching a movie I took her children for a walk up the nearby mountain, La Rhune. After packing a wee picnic we set forth carrying two sets of binoculars in search of monsters and dragons. I quickly realised that children have significantly more energy than adults, I was exhausted by the time we got onto the hill proper.

The mountain is exactly the shape a child would draw: conical with jagged rocky edges. The weather was fine and we made good progress. Autumn has finally arrived and the trees offered a magnificent display of burnt reds and oranges. Butterflies flitted by readying themselves for winter, gathering sustenance and seeking shelter.
La Rhune is home to an abundance of wild ponies. They are very inquisitive creatures. They are also plentiful, I had expected to perhaps see one or two, I counted at least twenty. I fear I may have caused a problem by proclaiming they were the dragons we were seeking, the youngest of the children was very tearful and hid behind me whenever a pony came near. I was a little wary and made sure we kept in front of them, they looked like they pack quite a kick.

The views from the mountain are terrific. On one side the Atlantic stretches into the distance. with the coastal towns of Biarritz, St Jean de Luz and Hendaye clinging to the edge of its shores. On the other side the Pyrenees rise into the skies. It is quite a breathtaking contrast.

We walked close to the message that was burned into the mountain-side demanding that the authorities resist ruining the landscape by building a tunnel straight through the mountain. How anyone could even contemplate destroying this astounding beauty is beyond me. I just hope that the demonstration in Bayonne this Saturday makes those in power think again.
The Basque country continues to surprise me, it is one of the most beautiful regions on earth. We returned home safely to hot chocolate and cookies, but no sign of any monsters.

Basque of the day:- beauty :: edertasun

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

hotbed in St Jean de Luz

A friend from St Jean de Luz has recently had a successful operation. I went to visit them in hospital yesterday. Winding my way through the labyrinthe of corridors I eventually arrived at the wing I was seeking. As I tried to enter, two enormous armed and balaclava wearing guards ordered me to halt. After padding me down and eventually believing my reason for being there they let me pass.

Walking up the corridor towards my friend's room I counted a further eight armed guards each carrying huge machine guns. At the far end of the passage I could see a balcony where a further six gun-toting special forces agents were having a cigarette break. I think I was worse for wear than my friend when I finally arrived at their room. I readily enquired what was going on.

It transpires that the previous night an alleged member of ETA had been shot by the special forces and was receiving medical treatment in a nearby room. Fearing reprisal or escape the armed guards were taking no chances with their charge, mounting a full-scale 24-hour vigil. I didn't see the other patient but the guards were extremely courteous, once they believed me harmless, and I think the nurses were enjoying having a bevy of muscle-clad men milling around. Most importantly my friend is well on the road to full recovery. Outside the hospital a myriad of television networks from France and Spain were reporting developments.

I don't think this sort of thing happens on Harley Street.

Basque of the day:- hospital :: ospitale

Monday, 12 October 2009

mountainous warnings in St Jean de Luz

St Jean de Luz is experiencing a renewed spate of heightened political sentiment. France and Spain have long been known as world leaders for fast, efficient train links. A proposed LGV (the new TGV) link between Paris-Bordeaux and Madrid is set to be developed. This link will run down the coast past St Jean de Luz (great news) and into the Spanish plains. Given the small obstacle that is the Pyrenees planning has come to a stop. However, one lunatic developer has come up with a plan that seems to be gathering momentum.

In order to save a mammoth six minutes from the journey time he has proposed to cut a huge tunnel through La Rhune, the mountain that stands at the end of the Pyrenean chain. The tunnel will be fed by enormous viaducts scraping their way across the countryside. The plans would utterly devastate many Basque villages, completely ruin a wonderful heritage landscape and dramatically increase noise pollution. The plans are reported to cost some €300m (which probably means €0.5bn). There is a perfectly robust train line already in place that currently carries the TGV. What is it with people in local government/council, from which form of slug have they evolved?

As soon as the plans were made public a group of intrepid campaigners climbed La Rhune. They wrote a very strong message against the plans in petrol across the mountain-side, then set fire to it. An enormously dramatic statement and effect. All night long the four hundred metre wide beacon screamed "NO!, NO!, NO!" This weekend I am taking part in further demonstrations in Bayonne and urge any locals who read this to attend.

I am in favour of excellent rail links. It amazes me how good and cost effective an experience travelling by rail in France is, especially after having taken sub-par trains for years in the UK. Once all the plans are in place it would take two hours to get to Paris or Madrid, three to Barcelona and four to Morocco. However, nature and culture have been here far longer and are infintely more important than convenience. A mountain is worth more than six minutes of efficiency savings.

I spoke to one local about their opinions of the plans. They suggested that if the plans went ahead there would probably be a little bit of boom-boom. I enquired what this was. It seems to be the polite way of suggesting terrorist action might be rekindled (the last time was when McDonalds threatened to open).

Basque of the day:- nature :: nolakotasun

Thursday, 1 October 2009

surf's up in St Jean de Luz

One of St Jean de Luz' sub cultures has allowed me into its midst in recent days. With summer over, autumn winds and weather systems are forcing bigger waves onto the Basque coast. My neighbour insisted I join him and his friends to learn the way of the board. Now I knew it wasn't going to be easy but had figured the difficulty would primarily be technical not physical. How wrong I have been.
My first day was spent largely taking waves while lying flat in a press-up position. By lunchtime of day two I was halfway up and by the end of that day I managed to stand, albeit for only a couple of seconds. Today was meant to be day three but I am walking like a robot and can't lift my arms above my waist.
Now I had always sort of smirked at the whole surf thing. That whole 'being at one with nature man' thing. However, when you are sat on your board out at sea, watching and waiting for a wave to take it is a unique experience. Seriously big waves and serious amounts of fun!
I have been very fortunate in taking my first waves on one of the biggest beaches in Europe which runs some 200km from Bordeaux to the Spanish border. An enormous forest protects the beaches from the inland towns. Finding a desolate beach with excellent waves is not difficult. We were on our own the whole time we were there. Looking north and south up the beach, nothing and noone. Magical.
Basque of the day:- surf :: olatu-apar