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