Friday, 21 May 2010

time for fiesta in St Jean de Luz

Here we go, three hours until the fiesta begins in St Jean de Luz. This weekend sees the Festival Andalou which translates as much dancing, drinking and eating. It is based largely on the promenade with several restaurants opening their doors to revellers for bespoke parties. On the promenade the 'casetas' (small tents serving sangria and tapas) are open pretty much all night long. The camp is centred around a stage on which more able flamenco dancers dance while we follow suit below. During the day there is non-stop dancing including numerous mass beginners classes which are good fun. At night flamenco oriented bands make sure nobody falls asleep. With the weather forecast to touch 30C and the sea views being hospitably panoramic this promises to be a good weekend. Sunday is the main event. I will report back.

In addition to the festival there is the small matter of a rugby cup final involving the local team Biarritz as well as a swanky private party that my choir are singing at on Saturday evening. I had my first ever siesta this afternoon anticipating that I won't sleep at all between now and Monday. Life in the Basque country continues to be stressful.

Basque of the day:- party :: jai

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

fags and bikes in St Jean de Luz

I saw a classic contradiction this morning in St Jean de Luz as I headed out to the boulangerie for my daily croissants and baguette. There was a man in a Basque beret smoking a cigarette whilst standing beside his bike. A normal enough occurrence until I looked more closely. His brand of cigarette and bike were both Gitane. I believe it means 'gypsy woman'.

Who'd have thought that the same name would be used to sell two very different types of lung buster. They also do guitars.

Basque of the day:- esklabua :: slave

Thursday, 13 May 2010

embarassing admission in St Jean de Luz

I've mentioned before that St Jean de Luz is a fairly suave place. I live in the centre of town so I like to hope that a little of that sophistication has rubbed off on me. However, there is a pastime I enjoy that I am compelled to keep secret. Even my wife only found out about it last year. it is something about which my friends would ridicule me and its discovery would certainly lessen my standing amongst the Basque men. I need to share it though, I can't go on any longer living a lie.

I love shopping in supermarkets.

It's not as though this is something new. As a youth, myself and a good artist friend (he knows who he is) used to take delight in people watching at the local supermarket in Edinburgh. There is always such a wild and varied delight of people milling around. It really can be an anthropological insight and treat.

Imagine my delight upon finding Al Campo across the border in Spain. It has to be the largest and most bizarrely stocked offering of its kind. Where Scotland held aisles of ready meals, here we find a thousand varieties of sausage; where Edinburgh presented us with a myriad of fizzy drinks here we find whole aisles stuffed with legs of ham. The clientele is also different and their social patterns as alien as the ingredients I tried to translate.

I feel a new challenge upon me and will endeavour to catalogue the buying behaviours, idle banter and shopping fashions that present themselves over the coming months.

Basque of the day:- shop :: denda

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

overlooking St Jean de Luz

The sun shone brightly on St Jean de Luz yesterday. Towering in the background the Pyrenees are omnipresent. Standing proudly at the head of the mountain chain stands La Rhune at 905m high (nearly the same height as Snowdon). Having been here for almost 18 months I figured it was about time I went to the top of the mountain. I've walked its foothills many times but have never taken the time to climb to the top even though it's only a 3 hour hike. However, there is an alternative. A cog-link train drags itself to the summit every 40 minutes or so and proves to be a popular tourist attraction. With my in-laws in tow we set forth.

It reminded me of being on a big dipper as we cranked our way upwards, I just hoped that once we reached the top we wouldn't be hurtling down the other side at stomach wrenching speeds. Not so. Dotted across the mountainside were 'pottok' ponies. A breed unique to the Pyrenees and akin to Shetland ponies. Circling above them various birds of prey sought out their next meal.

The view from up there is quite amazing. The Basque country is laid out below. To the north the beaches stretch up towards Bordeaux. To the south San Sebastian reminds you of lunch. Westwards the mountains rise and fall into the distance and eastwards St Jean de Luz glistens by the Atlantic. Even my mother-in-law was impressed.

Basque of the day:- view :: ikusmen

Saturday, 8 May 2010

incredulity in St Jean de Luz

I sit frustrated in St Jean de Luz this evening. I am supposed to be in England to celebrate my dear friend Peter's important birthday but have had to bend to the whim of the force that is Nature. Darn those blasted inconvenient geological seismic shifts. Most airports in Spain have been closed all day due to volcanic ash with southern France and Portugal following suit. Twice aviation has been affected by volcanic activity and twice I have been caught out. For those that fear there may be some correlation, my next flight is scheduled for May 20th!

Today was VE Day. The town of St Jean de Luz is ardent in its continued support and remembrance of the Allied victory, with particular importance paid to the Resistance who were very active in these parts. A small troop of servicemen marched into town from Ciboure where a small service was held amidst the pomp, circumstance and music that the Basques serve up so well. Afterwards we were all ushered to the town hall for canapes and wine. Nothing is ever complete unless a glass or two are shared.

Talking of which, here's to you from far too far away Mr Bell, I am so sorry we couldn't be with you.

Basque of the day:- happy birthday :: zorionak

Friday, 7 May 2010

April comes late in St Jean de Luz

April was an unseasonably sunny affair in St Jean de Luz with long unproductive hours spent on the beach. Lazy days were puckered by meandering Parisians wearing the latest season's styles (lots of short skirts with brightly painted wellies?!).

Now that May is upon us, usually one of the warmest months, the weather has turned for the worse. It has rained every day thus far and there was even snow reported in some parts of the Basque country.

Thankfully the singing, dancing, eating and greeting season is in full swing so we are being kept warm by conviviality and rarely have a moment to moan about the weather - it would be nice to get back on the beach soon though...

Basque of the day:- weather :: eguraldi

Monday, 3 May 2010

back on form in St Jean de Luz

After an absence of two months from St Jean de Luz I returned just as the festival season was getting underway (quelle domage!). This weekend saw the choir holding a wee dinner for us newer members. Having been absent for a while I dodged having to cook anything but did take along a couple of bottles of malt whisky by way of enforcing a modicum of Scottishness.

My experience of meals with guys is fish and chips or perhaps at a push a barbecue. Not so in the Basque country. We started with 4kg of huge crevettes, freshly made mayonnaise with crab, smoked salmon and several large plates of meats. This was only the entree. Main course served up duck breast and pigeon on a bed of pureed potato in a shallot and garlic jus. Dessert presented five enormous chocolate and passion fruit gateau, all courtesy of Alain our singing patissier. Washed down by two dozen bottles of red wine (plus my whisky) our throats were adequately lubricated to enable sporadic forrays into Basque song.

Unlike chaps back home, the Basque men worked as a cohort and I was quickly seconded to chop herbs, wash dishes and serve wine. It was effortless and, dare I say it, working the kitchen was fun. I guess living in a matriarchal society (which the Basque country is) we men need to find solace where we can.

[Apologies for absence: Egypt, Scotland, Sudan, England, Spain, with a bit of volcano thrown in...]

Basque of the day:- absence :: ez izate