Monday, 25 January 2010

from St Jean de Luz to St James's Park

Taking a break from St Jean de Luz (it is so exhausting and stressful) I have headed back to my old haunts in London. It's been a wee while since I was last here and I was immediately assaulted by the sheer volume of people. I used to laugh when countryside friends would make such comments but the worlds bigger cities do seem to be getting busier...

One of London's most endearing qualities is its complex enthnicity. Within an hour of arriving I met people from every continent and many countries from within each. The multi-culturalism creates a liberal and accepting generic culture, but one that unfortunately also houses hidden resentments. St Jean de Luz, and the Basque country as a whole, is far less populated and its people largely one and the same. The Basque face can be readily recognised. While there is an enormous sense of community that has been largely lost elsewhere in Europe this can lead to a little sceptism about 'outsiders'.

It seems that people everywhere are nervous about people that look or sound different. While outright dismissal is abhorrent, it can be equally dangerous to embrace without understanding, I guess a little learned apprehension can be a good thing. As an outsider seeking acceptance I feel it is my duty to understand my new society and make every effort to learn its ways rather than expecting it to bend to mine but without forgetting my Scottish heritage. Creating local interest in my differences seems to have helped break down barriers and speed up integration. Life is interesting.

Basque of the day:- travel :: bidaiatze

Thursday, 21 January 2010

recharging in St Jean de Luz

January is definitely my favourite month in St Jean de Luz. Christmas is still a happy memory, I have survived another birthday, it can only get warmer, ski-season has started and it is tranquil, beautifully so. It is the one month of the year when there are next to no tourists. Everyone is truly relaxed in their work, or on holiday. This is not entirely down to there being fewer visitors, much of it is to do with lazily recovering from excessive eating and drinking.
Christmas in the Basque country is a surprisingly social affair. On Christmas Day friends asked round for a quick aperitif that stretched into a dozen bottles of champagne, a trencher of oysters, kilo of foie gras and several langoustines; this was before lunch. Similarly, we joined friends deep in the Pyrenees for a splendid New Year's Eve supper that we hadn't quite expected to contain a dozen courses lasting as many hours. We ate, drank and partied solidly for two weeks and are only now beginning to eat again.
One of the weirder observations was the Basque version of Santa Claus. Rather than the Coca-Cola inspired fat bloke in red they have Olentzero. Dressed in black, including fetching face mask, effigies of him can be seen dreeping from windows throughout the Basque country. He bears a not uncanny resemblance to a thief and fear he may have been responsible for more than one car crash over the years. His name translates as "time of the good ones" and is said to correspond to the old feast of the winter solstice which makes him older than Christmas (which originated in 380AD as a festival). The man himself was allegedly one of the race of giants that lived in the Pyrenees in days of yore, others say he was a hero orphan raised by fairies. Whatever the origin, it is yet another pointer that Basque culture predates all others in Europe.
Anyway, it's good to be back to normal. I am just glad we have this month at the start of each year to recharge our batteries before the imminent festival season begins. Off to the beach for some fresh air, it's a tough life here...
Basque of the day:- refresh :: freskatu