Wednesday, 26 July 2017

245. Traditional French restaurants

27th June. Just received this from Perry & Caroline Taylor - it hit my tickle button! Perry's a fine cartoonist in the Sempé mould.. but always with a twist of the South West. As he says::
Jazz musicians come from all around the world to play at Marciac, even the locals.
An unwelcome change has taken place in French restaurants over the last decade or two. It's the creeping blight of serving pre-prepared meals and it's eating away at one of France's greatest cultural offerings.

Yes, there are still affordable gems that exist - family-run hotels, restaurants, inns and cafés - that somehow have managed to survive with their standards intact, but sadly these places are slowly disappearing as the realities of modern life catch up with rural France. If they haven't yet disappeared, then la carte has shrunk with each passing year. Yes, the big names are still "out there" - but I'm talking about places that are routinely affordable - not the temples to gastronomy that you might go to to celebrate a major anniversary.

It costs (in ‘social’ charges) about 2000€ a month* to employ someone here on a modest wage – and that’s before you start paying them the wage..

* This figure was given to me recently - but please correct me if I'm wrong.

So the restaurateur has two choices: either put the prices up – or invest in a large microwave oven. Or perhaps both. Into the microwave oven goes pre-prepared food provided by these wholesale suppliers. Here are one company's offerings tailored for SW France.. These wholesale suppliers have similar products tailored for the rest of France.

I’m not suggesting that their products are of poor quality – but what they're doing is leveling the playing field. It's the "blandification" of cooking (as George Dubya might have said). It’s destroying the art of cooking – all you need to employ now are “ding” chefs* – who need far less training and knowledge, therefore they are cheaper. Also, fewer kitchen staff are required and kitchens themselves can be smaller thus allowing more profitable restaurant floorspace.  If you go into a restaurant, and they have a huge menu, you can guarantee you’re about to enjoy a pre-prepared meal. One major supplier employs 1900 people and delivers to 43,000 restaurants in France. 

* the sound the microwave makes when it’s finished!

I'm looking to build up a list of affordable restaurants from across all of France that serve food cooked in the traditional manner - using fresh ingredients, prepared and cooked in the restaurant kitchens. 

"How can I tell?" I hear you ask? You can tell - but you'll have to use your common sense - look at the number of covers in the dining room, the size of the menu and ask yourself is it likely that in the case of a menu that features 10-15 or more starters / main courses / desserts that they will all have been freshly prepared?

With the aid of a few kindred spirits, I've put together a map that shows what I'm after. If you've emerged from a restaurant feeling that the taste in your mouth is that of pre-prepared institutionalised food, then toss their card in the nearest bin. If, however, it's clear that you've been eating food that's been prepared on the spot (probably in a family-run restaurant) then I'd be grateful if you could send me the details and I'll include it on the map below. I'd need your name (a first name will be fine) - let me know if you are happy or not for me to include it in the description - the name of the restaurant, the address & postcode, the website if you know it, the type of food served (specialities etc) and a short description that summarised your experience. Don't forget to include what someone could expect to pay, including wine and coffee. See the examples on the map.

Needless to say, I have no involvement in any way, shape or form with any of the restaurants currently listed or any that may be listed in the future.

NB To see the map full size in the blog, click on the >> arrow at the top right of the map. If the text is compressed or you just want to see it in full screen, click here. The markers take a few seconds to load. Click on the photos to see them in larger format: 

To send your suggestion in, either use the Comment facility at the bottom of this post - or email me using the form in the left hand column. Also, if you visit any of these, I'd be interested in your views.

Many thanks!

Saturday, 1 July 2017

244. The Lions roar at last!

25th July. We're in for a noisy night tonight.. there's a concert at the bullring with this shower.. (the bullring is just a couple of hundred metres from us) They've been practising most of the day and, without wishing to sound like my parents, well, fill in the rest yourselves!
23rd July. This morning we went to Sare - one of the most beautiful of all French villages - never mind just in the Pays Basque.

There was a Fiesta des Brocs taking place and neighbours of ours were stand-holders there so we were talked into going!

There's junk and there's junk.. There was junk of the kind we hoard in our attics, garages and cellars.. and there was junk of the kind you normally put straight into the bin.

I thought I'd seen everything until I looked at one stand and I saw a pair of false teeth for sale..! Who would buy them and for what? Cutting out pastry? And if someone wanted them to actually use - surely they'd have to try them for size on the spot.. Aaarrgghh!

Meanwhile, preparations for the annual Fêtes de Bayonne have been going on for the last few weeks - barriers, signs, parking - in anticipation of the flood of humanity that is about to roll over us like some vast, unstoppable, animated white and red tsunami.

This monster of a festival kicks off at 10pm on Wednesday evening.. Until you've lived in a town of 40,000 that's suddenly invaded by approximately 1.3 million people over 5 days it's impossible to have any idea of its impact. Have a look here. Time to re-open the escape tunnel!

22nd July. This next song has long been a personal favourite..

Here's the great Jacques Tati on the differences between English and French policemen!

21st July. Whenever I hear music played on a cimbalom, this actor's face* springs to mind. To me, he always defined sinister..  as in "Meestair Bond, we haf been expecting you..." or "Are you paying too much for your car insurance?" (maybe I'm wrong about the second one!) 

* Vladek Sheybal.. 

20th July. I'm not usually a great fan of videos taken by drones - but this one of the high-priced* Biarritz seafront is exceptional. (it does take a couple of minutes to get into its stride though!) As always, best in full screen and HD if your connection can manage it:
* As the saying has it - if you have to ask the price, you can't afford it!

18th July. More videos on Bayonne (NB. Liked them all - except for the ones showing bullfighting):
Uncomfortable afternoon here. It started off well this morning too.. it was cool while I took my bow saw to a small tree in the front garden that was rapidly becoming a medium-sized tree. I then had to take a saw and secateurs to all the branches and bag it all up ready for the déchetterie. It turned out to be thirsty work in the end!

During the afternoon, someone turned up the heat and by 6pm it was an oppressive 37° and sticky with it.. and then - boom - thunder, lightning and rain.. The temperature dropped 10° in as many minutes.

17th July. I've been busy these last few days painting the shutters from the two west-facing upstairs windows at the rear of the house. They bear the brunt of the winter weather - and as I've mentioned before, when it rains here, it rains! I decided to put two coats of Basque Rouge on them - and I suddenly realised that meant painting 16 sides! Both windows have two shutters so that's four to start with. Two sides to each shutter - makes 8 sides... Two coats for each side = 16! The paint took its time to dry in this hot weather too.. and once dry, we had the fun and games of putting them back up. They are not light.

Here are some beautiful images of the Basque country.. (photos mainly from the Spanish side)
9th July. Yesterday saw the dénouement of the British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand culminate with the 3rd and final Test against New Zealand. The Lions had gone into the tour with many pundits (all from New Zealand it has to be said!) predicting a 10-0 series whitewash.. and if that didn't happen, then at least a 3-0 blackwash in the three Tests at the hands of NZ was widely forecast. In case you're visiting from another planet, NZ won the 1st Test, the B&I Lions won the second - so everything hung on the outcome of the the 3rd Test.

Here it is:

7th JulyEric the Magic Carpenter™ is back with us.. He's doing some much-needed maintenance on our heavy wooden west-facing shutters upstairs at the rear of the house - where they bear the brunt of the winter storms. The shutters that face west are solid, built from pine (?) planks with a z bar reinforcement. He cut out the rotten bits and replaced them with new wood where necessary. There are four of them, each about 6ft high and heavy, and they're not easy to heave on and off their external mountings without falling out of the window! We had a near-miss this morning where Eric was very close to achieving this trick at one stage! More acrobatics this afternoon!

He arrived at 7.30am - worked through without a break until 12 noon, went home for his lunch - started again at 1.15pm and left at 6pm - after tidying everything up and sweeping out the garage where he'd been working. He took down and completely overhauled 3 shutters (including repainting them in undercoat), made a new shutter from scratch, fitted a new complicated closing mechanism, replaced a rotten timber support on the garage door, re-hung the sliding garage doors (without being asked) and fitted a new section of skirting board in the sitting room. What a star!

4th July. I hope readers across the US have a happy 4th July! Best wishes to all!

The heat has returned.. It's up around 32° this afternoon with 35° forecast for tomorrow. I'll be off downstairs in a minute to make something long and cold.

It's now 7.30pm and it's 38° on our terrace. As much as we like the heat, it's too hot to sit out. Fortunately, the house stays cool in hot weather.

1st July. I'm a passionate British & Irish Lions supporter, and while I was delighted and thankful for that hard-fought win in the 2nd Test against New Zealand, I have to say that there has been a gap (but not a gulf) in the standard between NZ Test rugby and that offered up by the B&I Lions. NZ has always played a fast, hard-hitting and frenetic brand of rugby.. believing that, as opposition bodies and minds tire, the relentless aggression from NZ would keep the scoreboard ticking over. However, the perceived 'gap' is not nearly as big as some in New Zealand would have us believe.. The physical conditioning of northern hemisphere players has improved dramatically and so I think that the 'gap' (if it still exists) has narrowed to the point where a Lions win on Saturday is eminently do-able, now that Gatland has found his winning mix of players.

The 2nd Test was a "must win" game for the Lions, especially given that Beauden Barrett had an off day with his kicking, the match was played in torrential rain and NZ went down to 14 men after losing Sonny Bill Williams - who was justifiably red-carded early on in the match following a brutal shoulder charge into Anthony Watson's face. In my book, this was not accidental. This was the NZ win-at-all-costs mentality and it came back to bite them.

But, as we're constantly being told, a win's a win and the record books will only show that the Lions defeated NZ at Wellington in the 2nd test for the ABs first home defeat in 8 years. One major positive was that, unlike the B&I Lions, the ABs were unable to score a try at home.. How often does that happen* - especially as the NZ media had been castigating the Lions for their lack of tries. And hats off to the Lions fans who would have raised the roof with their fervent support - if the Westpac stadium had had one! * It's 39 games since New Zealand last failed to score a try. 

Here's the full match in two halves:

I remain to be convinced that this B&I Lions selection truly reflects the best rugby players in the British Isles - but that's by the by - the last 15-20 minutes was one way traffic. Well done you Lions..! And well done Kieran Read for being gracious in defeat.

I think the crucial 3rd Test has the potential to be a brutal encounter but let's hope it's won by good rugby and that the spectacle is not marred by violence. The match will be officiated by the excellent French referee Romain Poite..     

Thursday, 1 June 2017

243. Perfect morning in Saint-Jean-de-Luz

30th June. It's a showery 17° this morning - and the garden looks all the better for it. After the scorching heat here in mid-June, I was half expecting to come back home to a frazzled, fried, charbroiled back garden.. but all remained green where it should be.

Tomorrow will see the first wave of summer tourists arriving here.. and the season proper will run from then for the two peak months of July and August. September is the best month here in the Pays Basque - tourists with families will have returned home leaving only the "silver" tourists. The weather stabilises with temperatures averaging out at 25° and the sea is as warm as it will ever get. The season continues at a slightly lower ebb until the end of October when it is effectively over.    

29th June. Each year there's a Celtic festival at Lorient that attracts thousands of people from Europe's western fringes. On the face of it it seems like nothing more than a harmless bit of folklore and a desire for expressing regional identity in an increasingly homogenous Europe, but I remain to be convinced that all the music, the dancing and the costumes is legitimately rooted in Celtic cultural history. I hope I don't come across as an old curmudgeon, but to me, a non-Celt (or, more accurately, a part-Celt), it appears to be an uneasy mixture of dancing waiters with wrap-around "shades",  and hairy old Jocks - all sprinkled with a touch of Disney with an eye to the tourist. See what you think:
I think my old dog would have been hiding under the stairs with his paws over his ears!

28th June. We heard today that the temperatures peaked at 40° here while we were away. This explains the burnt grass verges as we came south.

Who said: "The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter."? Answer at the foot of this post.

27th June. On 20th June, we escaped the unusually oppressive heat of the Pays Basque and drove north to Brittany for a planned break, first over-nighting at Pluherlin, a couple of kms from quaint Rochefort-en-terre (below - voted France's favourite village in 2016) before stopping at Cap-Coz, just a stone's throw to the south of Fouesnant (itself just to the south and east of Quimper).

Unfortunately, the heat followed us up north because the temperature at Pluherlin was around 35°.. and there was no air conditioning in the otherwise delightful hotel. (how spoilt we've become!). After a sticky and restless night, we set off for Cap-Coz. Once there, the lower humidity was a refreshing and very welcome change after the oven-like temperatures we'd had in the south west. Our hotel was situated almost at the water's edge and our room looked south over the calm blue waters of the bay. The same family had owned the hotel since 1919 and we were very well looked after indeed by the friendly and charming staff. The chef (the owner's brother) was a real artist in the kitchen and every meal we had there was a delight.

We visited Bénodet (right - a yachting centre par excellence) where this Breton gaff rigged cutter came lickety-split into the channel, heeling over through a crowd of boats - a fine sight; a flying visit to the ancient walled port of Concarneau; explored Quiberon (below); Pont-Aven (a must-see for those who like Paul Gauguin's work); Loctudy and the austere grey granite village of Locronan. From there, we followed the coast as it swung around to the north west and we stopped at Telgruc-sur-Mer with its inspirational views of the bay of Douarnenez and deserted white sandy beaches before continuing to Morgat (whose beach was voted a surprising 14th in the world by Guardian readers). An "antiques" market was in progress where we snapped up a couple of reasonably priced old wine glasses that had caught our eye - I always think wine tastes better from an old glass (just as tea tastes better from a china cup, rather than a mug). Then there was Quimper.. a lively bustling Breton town with, I was pleased to note, several quirky individual shops. Long may people fight against the increasing blight of the sameness of our towns.

Here's a video that shows what Quimper is all about:

This (below) is a shot of the beach at Cap-Coz. I would say that (if you have any choice in the matter) you should try and visit the region in June.

We were away while the 1st Test Match between NZ All Blacks and the B&I Lions was played on 24th June. I dare say that readers in New Zealand and fans of All Black rugby worldwide will have been pleased at the outcome of the match. I had hoped that the Lions could have pulled off an unlikely win in the AB's back yard but it wasn't to be. Unfortunately, those responsible for selecting the Lions squad have to ensure that the home nations are all represented. This policy is responsible for the inherent fault line that has historically run through the majority of Lions squads as a result. I think until the best player for a given position is selected, regardless of which home nation he comes from, we'll continue to be beaten. There are players out there who shouldn't be there and there are players at home who should be there. This is an additional constraint for the Lions. The other is that they have so little time together as a squad prior to playing the best of the southern hemisphere. It can be done - and it has been done before - but it's a massive challenge in today's game.      

I haven't been able to bring myself to watch the 1st Test yet - but here it is for those of you who wish to see it.

19th June. With all the heat we've been enjoying recently, I just realised that I've completely forgotten to keep you posted with the key matches from the British & Irish Lions tour of New Zealand. They had an uneven start to the tour, due I think partly to the compressed fixture list, coupled with the fact that for some reason known only to Warren Gatland, the touring party arrived in NZ only 3 days before the first match. Here's last Saturday's match played against the Maori All Blacks..

Next weekend sees the 1st Test against the full All Black side.. 

It's now up around 37° in the late afternoon. Might have to take my duffle coat off!

I went for a speed walk along the boardwalk at Anglet this morning. At my max taxying speed, I can get to the far end in just under half an hour, followed by a quick turn around and then back again. There were waves of heat rising up from the path.. and when I finally arrived back at the car, it indicated 34½°. I was steaming when I arrived back at the house. If you click on the photo (right) you should be able to see the start point near the top and the turn around point by all the restaurants below. (look for the yellow X)

The season has definitely started.. car with foreign plates and camper vans are trundling around in ever-increasing numbers. The season proper starts in less than a couple of weeks and that means waving goodbye to a parking space in Biarritz.  

This picture made me smile!
Keep calm and mow the lawn!
15th June. In the interests of balance, here are a couple of images of Bayonne to even things up a little. The river in the foreground is the Nive, (with the much-lamented rowing club at bottom left) before it joins forces with the mighty Adour in the background on its way to the Bay of Biscay. (worth clicking on this one)

This one is taken from the Citadel, overlooking the town and the Pyrenees:
9th June. Here is the view of the Grande Plage at Biarritz as seen from the lighthouse. We always take our visitors here for what is arguably the best view in town:

4th June. France 2 put on a programme the other night about young musical prodigies called "Prodiges" and, in my view, Marin, a young (12) clarinettist, stole the show:
These two precocious youngsters ran Marin very close for my top spot.. very easy to warm to these two!
More of these richly talented young prodigies here.

1st June. We went off early this morning to buy some lawn edging (ooh, the excitement of it!) from a garden centre outside Bayonne the size of Rutland - and after that it seemed like a good idea to zip down to Saint-Jean-de-Luz to enjoy the 1st of June. Madame needed to stock up with some flimsy accoutrements and we also needed to check the menus on a couple of our favourite restaurants as we have a marital milestone approaching. Here's a listing of all the restaurants in and around Saint-Jean-de-Luz. I wouldn't pay too much attention to the comments - I think some of them might be malicious. 

Once again, we pinched ourselves as we walked along the sea front - perfect weather and Saint Jean looked at its best. We'd wanted to have lunch at the Buvette de la Halle but they don't open properly until 14th June so we ended up having lunch at Le Fandango, in rue de la République.. grilled sardines and a green salad for Madame and a salad with roquefort, chorizo, croutons etc for me plus a glass each of a homemade sangria.. What was the damage I hear you ask? 33€ including coffee. My only comment would be that calling itself a bar brasserie is - in the words of the much-missed Alan Clark - being economical with the actualité.    

Answer: Sir Winston Churchill.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

242. The swallows are back..

27th May. While Madame was out at the market buying some sardines (among other things) this morning, I was heaving our trusty plancha (right) out from its winter storage in the garage. It didn't need much in the way of titivation as I'd lightly greased all the metal parts prior to putting it away last November. With a new gas bottle in place, the sardines were soon sizzling away and the bottle of rosé sitting in an ice bucket was pulling "open me" faces! 

I say this every year I'm sure and this is probably heresy to "Barbeque Man" but nothing cooks better outdoors than a plancha. I've tried them all - those little Hibachi BBQs in the 60s & 70s, the Weber kettle BBQs in the 80s, gas BBQs in the 90s - been there, done that. Sticks, firelighters, charcoal lighting fluid, the jokey aprons (you know the ones I mean!) - they can all be junked. With a plancha, there's no fuss, no dramas, no clouds of blue smoke drifting over the neighbouring gardens.. Just food cooked to perfection!  

Not convinced? Try this on your barbeque! ☺
26th May. Back from a steamy visit with family - it was 35° up there in Andernos-les-Bains.. It was too hot to be out in the sun there so we stayed indoors in the air conditioned coolth (is this a word?!) of the house.  Once back home in the Pays Basque, we were relieved to find the temperature was a welcome 10° cooler. Later on in the evening, the skies darkened, the wind began to blow* and the stage was set for a rumble.. and we weren't disappointed. It arrived around 11pm - the sky was almost continuously lit up with lightning and then the rain started. We have a small balcony at the front of the house and towards midnight I stood out there in my pyjamas hoping to get arrested enjoying the light show. It was quite spectacular! 
* known as a brouillarta here.
Here's (yet) another look at the Pays Basque.. OK, the coast has all the hot spots and those "must see" places that have to be visited if it's your first time here - but I would argue that the interior merits equal attention. It has an added advantage - while frustrated and frazzled motorists on the coast crawl from one tourist honey pot to the next in long shimmering tailbacks, the interior is by comparison virtually car-free. That's all I'm saying! 
We're off to Andernos-les-Bains for the day today so you'll have to talk among yourselves while we're away or - have another look at our town..!
25th May. The forecast today was for 33° so we decided to go down to the beach early for a walk before the day became too hot. Just as well we did because by 11am it was already 28° - and so after having lunch outside we moved back indoors this afternoon. The outside temperature in the shade is now 35° at 6.30pm..

Here's a quirky reminder of what Bayonne looks like.. I think it's a photogenic town but it's hard to see it now with fresh eyes after 10 years.. See what you think.  
I made one of my "specials" yesterday evening to cool off with.. Into a tall glass, pour a measure of white rum (from the French islands if you can find it), then add a similar quantity of sugar cane syrup. Then take a couple of limes and squeeze them. Add the juice to the glass. Stir well. Finally, top up the glass to the brim with cracked ice. This is hard to make if you don't have a machine for grinding ice cubes into fragments - but do your best. It's worth the effort. Find a shady spot - and enjoy!      

23rd May. I was upstairs earlier getting ready to go out - when there was a light thump at the window. Lying on the window ledge was a small yellow bird that was clearly dazed. This is becoming a habit! (two others did the same thing last year) It appeared to be still alive (just) so I took it downstairs and sat it in the garden while it slowly recovered its bearings. After about 20 minutes, it flew off to a nearby bush and vanished in the tangle of roots.

On coming back home, there was no sign of it so no harm done. I think that's about the third or fourth one that's done this particular trick in the last few months. It looked like one of these - that's as specific as I can be - I'd say it was a juvenile goldfinch (probably maybe).

19th May. I've been trying for a while to find a video that shows what rowing is like from the inside.. The problem is - you can't row and take a picture at the same time. It needed the advent of GoPro cameras - sturdy, small & autonomous - to open it up. Here's one that doesn't do a bad job of portraying the sport - apart from the music. It would have been better if we could have just heard the rhythmic whoooosh whoosh of the sliding seats and the sound of water bubbling under the boat:

If anyone knows of a good rowing (not sculling) video where you can hear just the sound of rowing (without a $&ù§?à music track!) I'd be grateful if you could send me the URL, and I'll post it here. Contact me via the link above the visitor counter in the left hand margin. Thanks! 
17th May. I try not to pay too much attention to political tittle-tattle (meat and drink for rolling news channels) and there's certainly no shortage of that at the moment on this side of the Atlantic. In France, there's much interest in the composition of President Macron's new government (with legislative elections to follow in June); in the UK, political pundits are unanimous in anticipating a landslide election victory for Prime Minister Theresa May on 8th June - plus there's the ongoing Brexit saga as British negotiators prepare to lock horns with the assorted suits of the EU.

However, my ears pricked up after listening to some of the claims and counter-claims emerging from the US (summary of the salient points here). I can't help but think that Donald Trump, the 45th President of the United States, has either been remarkably unlucky, spectacularly misquoted, poorly advised or just plain dumb (or all of the above!). It could also be that he's the latest example of the bull who carries his own china shop around with him. Surely he is surrounded by advisers who can guide him through the political minefields of Washington?

The "impeachment" word has started to be bandied about.. and we haven't heard that since 1998. Only one President in my lifetime has been impeached (President Nixon beat the House to the draw by resigning in advance). I view the impeachment process as evidence that no-one is above the law in the US. President Trump appears to be sailing very close to the wind and now the FBI has been given a week to hand over records & transcripts of conversations from the White House. Brace yourselves..

Meanwhile, here's a timely reminder of when, on a hot Texas morning 55 years ago, a young President inspired a nation - and a watching world:
(Entire speech here)

Watch "Journey to Space" here.. best in full screen) 

16th May. I was out in the garden yesterday doing a few small jobs when I was minded to check the temperature.. We've a thermometer out there in the shade and it was registering 30°! I've just come indoors after doing some more work out there and it's now a sultry 31° at 4pm.. Phew! Suddenly it's summer. And Madame has just returned from a trip into town and even she was complaining about the heat. I think we might be due for a storm this evening.  

10th May. A long-lost cousin of mine arrived in town a couple of days ago in a camper van from a holiday in southern Spain. We spent the last two days catching up and visiting all the "must see" places in the Pays Basque. We got up to speed on Monday evening with dinner at Chez Pantxua before heading out on Tuesday for Ascain, Sare, Ainhoa, Dancharia, Itxassou - for lunch at Esteben Borda (right) - where we were defeated by the generosity of the lunch - and the quantity of the wine! It's not often you'll hear me say that - before we headed back to Bayonne.

Today, we did Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, Les Aldudes (for lunch at Pierre Oteiza - highly recommended!), Saint-Etienne-de-Baïgorry and Espelette. Fortunately, the weather gods smiled on us on both days - we were blessed with temps up in the high twenties - and so our visitors saw the Pays Basque at its very best. The roads inland were traffic free and it was a real pleasure to show them why we are so well-rooted here.
Although this bridge over the river Nive at Saint-Etienne-de-Baïgorry is known as the Roman Bridge, it actually dates from 1661. Looking down from the ancient bridge and watching foot-long trout in the crystal-clear waters below was addictive - a trout would give an occasional flick of the tail to hold station over a stone, then its dark shadow would slide across the river bed followed by a sudden sparkling dart and a spreading ripple as one took an insect - but we had to move on.

The grooves worn in the cobbled surface bear witness to the use made of the bridge by countless heavily laden carts and wagons over the centuries travelling to and from nearby Spain.

8th May. And so today we enter the era of Macronomics. There's much optimism and enthusiasm on TV for the new man but it's early days yet. I think he'll find his hands are tied by the "Golden Rules" just as Hollande's were - thus the only actions available to him are those that cost little or nothing to implement, but generate the impression of activity. His record will be judged on his reaction to threats to the country's security and the economy, notably the unemployed and the unemployable. Can he connect with the people? Can he convince the unions to back him? Can he get his reforms and legislation through the National Assembly without a party machine? He has a massive challenge ahead of him. 

Meanwhile, the first swallows are back.