Monday, 28 June 2010

Fete de St Jean de Luz

This weekend St Jean de Luz enjoyed its wonderful annual festival. The normally brightly coloured town turns black and red for four days as people, houses and shops adorn the traditional Basque colours. Starting on Friday hundreds of children parade through the streets playing drums en route to see the mayor who officially welcomes them and proclaims the festival open. The music continues in many guises for four days. The streets are permanently filled with people enjoying themselves, moving from one group of friends to another, filling one anothers glasses with wine, cider and sangria (though not at the same time).

A myriad of events take place to ensure there are no dull moments: bull running, concerts, beach volleyball (a personal favourite), dancing, fireworks, boat racing. Everything is built around the traditions embedded within the culture and folklore of St Jean de Luz. For four days the sound of laughter fills the air and all is even more fantastical in St Jean de Luz. The weather favoured us with a radiant weekend ensuring that even more liquids were consumed than normal.

There is no doubting the festival is madness. It is a whirlwhind of a weekend with little sleep and a lot of socialising. Marking progress I was amazed at how many people I knew as I walked amongst friends over the weekend. Last year's festival was excellent but I had been an outsider. This year I most definitely felt a part of it.

The festival marks the end of the quieter period. It is the last chance before summer for all locals to enjoy themselves as a group. From next week until the start of September the main tourist season is upon us. St Jean de Luz remains wonderful, as does its ambience, but it has a different more party like feel. From next week onwards most people will be here with the sole purpose of enjoying themselves (god forbid) and the locals will largely be working hard to ensure that everybody does just that. They never fail.

Basque of the day:- party :: besta

Saturday, 19 June 2010

cocktails in St Jean de Luz

Last night I drank too many cocktails in St Jean de Luz. For a change, given my mother is in town, we headed to the bar of the Grand Hotel. It is an upmarket place overlooking the sea and probably the swankiest bar in town. They also mix a superb cosmopolitan and a dashing vodka-martini. There is a good, relaxed atmosphere in plush yet not stuffy surroundings and the staff are excellent. We met some lovely people from a wide mix of places (New York, Dublin, Biarritz, Paris). It's always interesting to hear visitors opinion of St Jean de Luz; it generally reaffirms why we chose to live here. This morning I regret that the cocktails tasted too good.

Basque of the day:- hangover :: biharamun

Friday, 18 June 2010

the cost of living in St Jean de Luz

I had one task to do today in St Jean de Luz. I wanted to buy a nice lettuce for dinner tonight. After breakfast, around 1030, I set out for the market. By 1130 I was still only halfway there. It is all of 700 metres from my home but it being a sunny morning everybody was out and about catching up on local news and gossip (of which there tends to be lots). I had to do my bit. Around this time I received a message that a lovely new friend was taking coffee up the road so I was willingly obliged to go and meet her. Following this I remembered that my dance class was about to start which in turn made me hungry thus forcing me to take a late lunch. There were lots of locals in the cafe watching the football so I stuck around to enjoy the atmosphere. I got home 5 minutes ago. No lettuce. It's now raining and I have another coffee at 5 before drinks at 7. I have decided to stop work for the day and take an hour out of my hectic schedule to read a book.

To the uninitiated this might sound like a workshy sort of day. Let me assure you that I feel suitably fatigued for a Friday. More importantly, this is the way things get down here. It's who you know that matters, and more importantly, what gossip you know. Life in St Jean de Luz is exhausting.

Basque of the day:- busy :: lanpetu

Thursday, 17 June 2010

spa day in St Jean de Luz

Overnight St Jean de Luz picked up the weather that has wreaked havoc on the Cote d'Azur. It has lost little of its gusto as it traversed the Pyrenees. The sea is boiling, the sky is sinking and there is only one thing for it, a day of thalassotherapy.
The Helianthal in St Jean de Luz offers a fabulous spa experience. It is located right on the beach; you can literally walk into the sea from the swimming pool. The spa has a very strangely shaped waist deep pool filled with warm sea water. Around one side are arranged a series of jets positioned to pummel various parts of the body. Another part of the pool is a jacuzzi, another offers a strong current to swim against. There are semi-submberged beds to lie on that are tickled with fizzing bubbles. An excellent hammam offers an opportunity to sweat out impurity, as does the sauna. Finally there is my favourite, the 'cascades ecossais' - Scottish waterfall - a downpour of icy water. It sure beats the weather outside, my poor plants.
Basque of the day:- storm :: ekaitz

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

keeping slim in St Jean de Luz

People in St Jean de Luz eat and drink more than I think fair given how slim and healthy the majority are. Meals often contain fattier foods (such as hams, fois gras or duck), rarely include much by way of vegetable or salad and are always washed down with wine.

Baffled by how they manage to retain their happy, svelte glow I have uncovered a secret. This secret also serves to explain something that has annoyed and confused us Anglo Saxons for decades. Lunch is the main meal and is enjoyed slowly over several hours. This gives the body plenty of time before bedtime to fully digest the meal and detoxify the alcohol. It also serves to relax the mind and provoke social behaviour. Supper is often little more than a small morsel.

Breakfast like a king; lunch like a prince; supper like a pauper. Perhaps the adage should read: 'missing' lunch is for wimps.

Basque of the day:- food :: jaki

Monday, 14 June 2010

Louis XIV returns to St Jean de Luz

On this day 350 years ago St Jean de Luz was waking up with its biggest ever hangover. Yesterday in 1660 Louis XIV married Marie Theresa Infanta of Spain (daughter of Philip IV). This concluded the Treaty of the Pyrenees and finally brought peace between France and Spain.
The wedding took place in Eglise Saint-Jean-Baptiste and being who he was Louis XIV insisted that the door he and his wife exited by was immediately bricked up so that noone else could have a marriage like his; so pedantic.
To celebrate the anniversary St Jean de Luz has held events all week culminating in a ceremonial mass at church followed by a re-enactment of the wedding festivities. Baroque music filled the air as revellers in large hats danced around merrily. Macarons also had their first airing for the wedding 350 years ago and as such the town's principal macaron maker, Maison Adam, was offering its delicious fare to hungry onlookers.
St Jean de Luz was chosen for the wedding not simply because the weather here is so good. Louis XIV was also known as the Sun King but had more political motivation behind his choice of venue. St Jean de Luz is the exact midpoint between Paris and Madrid.
Basque of the day:- wedding :: ezkontza

Friday, 11 June 2010

global events in St Jean de Luz

For the next few weeks there will be little escape from the football world cup, not even in St Jean de Luz. I am not the greatest football fan but cannot ignore how good it is that this event is taking place in Africa. In the midst of so much depressing news coming out of Korea, Palestine et al it is reassuring that a country less than a generation ago deemed amongst the worst has come so far. There is little chance of South Africa winning the tournament, but that is really not the point. Harmonious geographical and cultural collectiveness is more important to the world cup than winning; for once taking part whether in person or in absentia is what is important. It showcases the modern role and opportunity sport has locally and on the global stage in tearing down divisions and unifying peoples.

Basque of the day:- unity :: batasun

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Backhanded compliments in St Jean de Luz

This week has as ever been a social one in St Jean de Luz. I started singing and dancing in order to meet people. Little did I realise that doing such things as an 'outsider' (etranger) would seemingly endear me so readily with the Basque people. I can never quite tell whether they think it is lovely or hilarious that I am throwing myself into things. Regardless it is nigh on impossible to walk down the street without having to stop for a chat. Given the many places I have had the pleasure of living this is the first time that I feel cradled by a real sense of community.

However, this does not come without certain drawbacks. Yesterday a local friend commented:
"Chris, you really do seem to be enjoying yourself"
"Thank you" I replied, "living here it is difficult not to."
"You really seem to enjoy the food here."

That was quite enough of that. I didn't need to hear anymore. Two weeks before the big town festival and beach season proper. Two weeks to avoid such statements being repeated. It's odd, in the UK I am of average shape; here I am seen as rather large. That says something.

Basque of the day:- diet :: jan-edanak

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

stage debut in St Jean de Luz

I am still not sure how it actually happened but I allegedly danced Flamenco on stage in St Jean de Luz last Saturday. The ever-lovely Fabienne organised an end of dance season concert at the jai alai (normally the home of pelota). From 0900 on Saturday and for 18 hours thereafter I was at her beck and call.

The day began with a full rehearsal. Over 100 people were involved ranging in age from 4 to 84. I was one of 7 men and would mostly be the only chap on stage at any one time albeit surrounded by a bevvy of brightly attired alluring ladies. Rehearsal good, waiting bad.

The last time I had been on stage I was seven years old and had just won the Edinburgh Schools Robert Burns Poetry Recital Award; I forgot every word and vowed I would never again take to the boards. As the start time neared and the hall filled my nerves began to get the better of me. There would be nearly 500 people watching, including a large group of my friends who promised they would make large amounts of noise in support - how much I looked forward to that.

I had two Sevillanas and one Tangos allegedly committed to memory. The first routine was some twenty minutes into the programme. The longest twenty minutes I can remember. Thankfully my obvious nervousness was greeted by much reassuring hugging by the ladies present - there is always a silver lining.

I heard the first strains of our first song and stepped trepidously into the overpowering limelight. The moment we began to move all sense of trepidation dissipated (footage here). What followed was one of the most enjoyable evenings I have ever had.

Two hours flew past and I regained sense around midnight sitting at a table with forty other revellers and clasping a large pitcher of sangria. As I staggered home around 0300 I decided that it had indeed been a resounding success. Three years ago I was working in the City; now I sing Basque, drink sangria and spend weekends dancing Flamenco with hundreds of women. How times change.

Basque of the day:- change :: aldaketa

Friday, 4 June 2010

a constant in St Jean de Luz

Today I have mostly been sitting in my house in St Jean de Luz. I am getting a new front door. The builders turned up as promised at 0800 (a surprise). They worked dilligently for several hours before asking for water. Once watered they said they would take lunch. This was around 1100. They had done well thus far so I couldn't say anything. Therein lies the schoolboy error that has so often been manipulated by builders worldwide. Lunch lasted until 1800. During this time my home was open to anyone who fancied a nosey. I was a prisoner. Normally not a problem but today was the perfect beach day and I was forced to work instead. My door has finally been installed. It's horrid and I hate it.

Basque of the day:- lazy :: alfer

Thursday, 3 June 2010

the things you do in St Jean de Luz

There's never a dull day in St Jean de Luz, let alone a dull week or month. Following on from the Festival Andalou (three days of raging sunshine, sangria, dancing, tapas, socialising and general festivalness) people around town have been on a high. The festival season is upon us.

I followed up my dancing exploits with a quick spot of Basque choralling at Musee Basque in Bayonne and a good deal of dance practice with the ladies. This weekend presents the end of year Flamenco spectacle - the fruits of Fabienne's labour. All has gone swimmingly until I pulled a muscle in my back yesterday - no honestly I did...

Every morning at 0730, lunchtime at 1200 and evening at 2000 the eglise St Jean Baptiste is eager to let us know that we should be eating. Rather than the simple peeling; we are offered three peels by three different bells each increasing in pitch. This is followed by 30 peels of the main bell. My bedroom faces the church and at this time of year the French windows are open overnight. There is no chance of my having a long lie in the morning.

Basque of the day:- regular :: ohizko