Friday, 5 February 2016

227. End of an era

7th February. After the first weekend of the "6 Nations", some dreams are already lying in tatters. Firstly, Italy, Scotland, Wales and Ireland can't now win the Grand Slam.. and secondly, none of the last three can win the Triple Crown either. And judging by their rambunctious performance against the lack-lustre French XV, my money's on Italy to cause an upset or two.

Stars to watch over the next few weeks? For Italy, the evergreeen Sergio Parisse and the Italian winger Sarto. For France, it can only be the former 7s player Virimi Vakatawa - who made a hugely impressive debut.
Jack Clifford came on for England with about 10 minutes left on the clock. I hope we see more of him as the tournament unfolds. He's a future England captain if ever I saw one. As for Scotland, Greig Laidlaw would grace any team. Hope he has a good tournament.

Pleased to see that they played the Black Bear and Scotland the Brave at Murrayfield yesterday.. If only they'd kick that maudling dirge Flower of Scotland into the long grass.

The Ireland - Wales match was a hard-fought encounter with no obvious man of the match..

5th February. I've finally had to come to the conclusion that my rowing days are over.. This has been forced on me by circumstances, aka my creaky knees. Once I'm in the boat, no problem.. but the killer for me is that, after a sortie, I'm unable to get out of the boat without assistance.. and I don't want to be the lame duck in the crew. I've rowed for around 55 years with one or two breaks and I know I'm going to miss everything about being out on the water early in the morning with a good crew when all is working as it should. The whirring sound of 8 seats sliding to and fro in unison, the blades being squared and feathered together, the surge of power when the cox calls for it, the way the boat sings when it's running well, the total concentration on making the current stroke better than the last one, being "in the zone" when it all comes together.. all these things I'll miss. I know it. But - there we are.. I've enjoyed the sport more than I can explain. I had been hoping that I'd be able to row for a few more years yet.. but sadly it's not to be.

Sylvie et Philippe
2nd February. Just back from a very tasty (and very reasonably priced) lunch at the Café du Musée, Bayonne. It's situated at the confluence of the Adour and the Nive and it's one of those places that you hear about from friends. We've been there three or four times now - and the menu has been different each time. No walk-ins though.. Must reserve a table by phone (05 59 59 16 39). It's run by Sylvie (front of house) and Philippe (galley slave). Friendly & welcoming, it appears on a list of good restaurants in Bayonne. Highly recommended. 

While we're talking about restaurants, I must mention Les 3 Soeurs (Ahizpak in Basque) at Bidart. If you do make a visit, the Crêpe soufflée à l’orange (below) is a 'must'.. (more pictures here
Here's a short list of good addresses at Biarritz. The only one I can vouch for is the first - Miremont - the fabled pâtisserie in the centre of town. You owe it to yourself to try at least one of their cakes.. or ices.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

226. Step forward 2016

31st January. We went to see "45 Years" this afternoon at Biarritz.. Reading the reviews (The Guardian, the New York Times and TIME) after having seen the film had me wondering if I'd seen the same film as the critics. Say no more.
I was down at the beach at Anglet again this morning - and as I approached it I could hear a constant basso profundo roar (similar to an airliner during its take-off roll). My first sight of the sea took my breath away.. it was high tide with an on-shore wind and the waves were molto spectaculare.. I wouldn't have liked to have been out in the Bay of Biscay in a yacht.. or indeed any kind of boat.

I thought I'd wind up January with a visit to a favourite restaurant of ours.. it's La Ferme Ostalapia, at Ahetze (just outside Biarritz). It's set in an old farmhouse, with an interesting menu (spoilt for choice) and the atmosphere is stylish yet relaxed. Highly recommended.  
Fortunately for you, it was featured in a programme by TV presenter Julie Andrieu. Don't worry if your French isn't up to it - just enjoy the scenery. (I'll draw a veil over the group's singing of "Hegoak" as they ascend La Rhune..) When a group of Basques get together, it's never long before Hegoak is dusted off! 

Take a look and see for yourself:

Here's Julie having a first flight in a paramotor.. This is something that's been on my "to do" list for some time.. There's a school in nearby Saint Pée sur Nivelles..

28th January. I forgot to mention that the final piece of Christmas pudding disappeared on Sunday.. I might have mentioned before that, for me, the rich taste of this peculiarly Anglo-Saxon Christmas ingredient evokes so many nostalgic memories of Christmasses past. In keeping with tradition, it was dutifully flamed (with a drop of whisky) and savoured. Lips were smacked.. and smacked again! Another 11 months to wait before your correspondent sees its like again!<sob!>
24th January. Ever wondered how to say such useful phrases in Basque such as "Please speak more slowly" or (good luck with needing this next one!☺) "This lady will pay for everything"? Look here. Actually, there is a phrase in Basque for that last one - "Gizon honek guztia ordainduko du"..

The forecast for today is for 23°C (73°F).. Apologies to readers in and around Washington DC. We went to St-Jean-de-Luz in the afternoon - it was like summer.. the car was indicating 24°.. there were people swimming and all the usual parking spaces were occupied. The town was crowded with people and the cafés were bursting at the seams. As welcome as the heat was, I find it worrying.. what's happening?

This clip I found shows Saint-Jean-de-Luz as it was earlier today.. and funnily enough, the clifftops were exactly where we were.. I think this was filmed later in the afternoon.

18th January. A favourite TV programme of ours is "Les escapades de Petitrenaud” (France 5) and yesterday's edition was set in Cahors, in the Lot, and it had our mouths watering! The programme is presented by Jean-Luc Petitrenaud (yes, I agree, he is a bit precious!) and it featured Le Balandre - a family-run restaurant (6 generations) which is now firmly penciled in on our "to visit" list. I'm including a link to the menus.. Here's the programme itself - see what you think:

And here's Jean-Luc Petitrenaud in the Pays Basque:

12th January. The other day I mentioned that we were subject to the occasional violent winter storm here. Last night, I was awakened in the wee small hours by what sounded like a bomb going off directly above the house as a thunderstorm blew in from the sea. I lay there for a few minutes listening to the crash and rumble of thunder mixed in with the west wind shrieking around the house, rattling the shutters as a deluge of water lashed down on the roof. I was glad we'd had the roof seen to not long ago - we replaced all the tiles, flashing and gutters. And so back to sleep!☺

11th January. I won't pretend to have been a massive fan of his work but here are two of his songs that I liked. He was an original.. and there are few enough of those around today. David Bowie RIP

Here he is with "Heroes" version français.. and two organ tributes here and here.

I came across this next one by accident.. it was always a favourite of mine.. It's the Edwin Hawkins Singers with their great no-holds-barred gospel version of "Oh Happy Day" from 1969... 1969! 
47 years ago.. (how did that happen?)

The chattering classes have picked up on the black pudding story ('flavour of the month' news story) mentioned below and are now running with the ball.. (more here and here) Over the last few years, I think a major imbalance has grown up between the amount of rolling news media coverage we have versus the amount of news available to fill it.

I'm told that the forecast for the week after next weekend is for sub zero cold.. The Bayonne forecast agrees.

9th January. Up early this morning and down to the river for the first time in 4 months. I went out in a double sculler and pushed myself a bit to see if I'd have any after-effects around the base of my thumbs.. (I've had a nagging twinge there for months) We did 14km more or less non-stop. If there had been, then that would have been the end of my rowing days. Fortunately, there was no reaction and so next week I'll pay my subs for the remainder of the year. I have to admit to being relieved to see the clubhouse again! (added later: Creaking a bit this evening!)

It was a misty morning on the river with no more than 100 yards visibility - plus we had to keep an eye open for the occasional dead tree that was stuck in the river bed. Colliding with one of these is not fun. The low sun was directly behind us in our wake and it dazzled like liquid gold.

I came across some photos taken by a drone (not today) above the Nive.. The Nive is one of the most beautiful rivers I've ever rowed on - with the added bonus of the Pyrenees as a backdrop.. It's right up there with the Dee at Chester. I think it's worth clicking on these photos to see them at their best.
Ladies VIII
A "yolette"

A "pair oar" in the foreground

8th January. In case anyone imagines that it's all one jolly round of lotus-eating down here, in winter we are often at the wet end of violent storms that blow in from the Golfe de Gascogne (Bay of Biscay). At times like that, I like to get down to the coast to watch things as they unfurl..

Just a few kilometers south of Saint-Jean-de-Luz, a sub-surface reef causes this monster wave known as Belharra to be thrown up..
Meanwhile, here's a view of what it means to be Basque from "l'autre côté"..(across the border)

7th January. I see that black pudding (left) is now being touted in the UK media as a "superfood".. I've long been a black pudding fan but all this "flavour of the month" hype leaves me cold. The equivalent here is boudin noir - aka a dark-hued blood sausage (above). I can't speak for the rest of France but I find the boudin noir in the Pays Basque to be less appetising than its Lancashire (UK) counterpart. There's something about the consistency and texture of the Basque variety that makes me suspect that it contains more blood and less cereal than its Lancashire equivalent that, according to Wiki, "is generally made from pork fat or beef suet, pork blood and a relatively high proportion of oatmeal, in some recipes mixed with grits (oat groats) and sometimes even barley groats." We've had boudin noir several times in the Pays Basque but there's something about its high "wobble factor" (a technical term, m'lud) that I find off-putting. By contrast, your correspondent finds the firmer Lancashire variety infinitely preferable.

All this talk of the boudin noir leads us neatly on to the boudin blanc - a completely different animal entirely. France being France, each region has its own local variation on the theme - as here:

Avranches: Onions, lard, chicken breast, cream, bread crumbs, pork, eggs, salt, pepper. 
(Avranches is in the Manche department, Normandy, on the Mont St-Michel Bay)
Castres, Tarn: Half lean pork, half egg panade flavoured with herbs, wrapped in caul, baked in oven.
Catalan or Pyrénées: Greyish white, added eggs and a good deal of herbs
Classic (made throughout France): White lean meat from pork and veal or chicken, pork fat, milk, eggs, sometimes truffles, in pork intestines, 5 to 6 inches (12 to 15 cm) long.
Havre and Normandy style: Light yellow, lots of pork fat with no lean, very fatty, often milk, eggs, bread crumbs, a starch of some kind or rice flour
Mazamet, Tarn: Half pork rind and half panade mixture based on egg, poached in water.
Rethel, Ardennes: Lean meat, pork fat, milk, eggs, no starch or bread crumbs. Has IGP status since October 2001. A "boudin blanc" festival is held each April in Rethel.
Richelieu (made throughout France): Chicken. Sometimes truffles. rich, formed into balls, wrapped in caul fat.
South-West: Pork, breadcrumbs, starch, eggs, a good deal of herbs, beef intestines. about 1½ inches in diameter.

Watch it being made.. (look away if you're of a nervous disposition!☺)
(NB There's no sound with this)
Of course, where there's a great food product in France, it's a fair bet that a Confrérie won't be far behind.. Enter la Confrérie des Compagnons du Boudin Blanc..

Montauzer at Biarritz
Montauzer, Bayonne
The best local exponent of the boudin blanc (in my opinion) is Maison Montauzer. There's a shop in the centre of Bayonne and also a stand at the indoor market at Biarritz.

Former President Sarkozy
Here's former President Nicolas Sarkozy enjoying himself (left) at the small Montauzer shop in Bayonne with MAM. For reasons that are unclear to me, the boudin blanc is only available at Montauzer around Christmas time. We had some on Christmas Eve served with sautéed apple.. (recipe here) A simple dish but one that's incredibly tasty.. maybe because Monsieur Montauzer adds some black truffle to his boudins. Yes, you can find 'industrial' boudin blanc in the supermarkets all through the year, but those of Maison Montauzer are worth waiting for.

4th January 2016First of all, a Happy New Year / Bonne année / Urte berri on to all my reader(s).. I'm about to commit my New Year's resolutions to print. To be honest, my list has a familiar look about it!
1. Improve my French..
2. Practice my banjo..
3. Use my bike more.
4. Keep my desk tidy (or failing that - tidier)
5. Improve my French..
(file these under 'Fiction')

Sunday, 25 October 2015

225. The clock's ticking..

3rd January. By one of those uneasy coincidences, I've just heard that Michel Delpech, the singer in the video below, has died.. (26 January 1946 – 2 January 2016). RIP †.

28th December. I can't think why I've not posted this video before.. it's the ride by le Petit Train up to the summit of La Rhune -  the emblematic mountain that presides benignly over the Côte Basque. To many here it's the symbol of the Pays Basque. Make yourself a coffee before starting the trip! The ticket collector has a real local accent!

25th December. If you've ever driven south in France in summer and switched the radio on to alleviate the boredom of the autoroutes, it's a racing certainty that you'll have heard this "summer song" that burst upon the airwaves in 1971.. and has been a perennial favourite on French radio stations (like RFM) ever since. Once heard, never forgotten..(you've been warned!) 

And for those of you who can just remember that slightly risqué* release "Je t'aime... moi non plus" by Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin waay back in 1969, this next video may amuse you.. It's Frankie Howerd and June Whitfield with their tongue-in-cheek version..
* it was thought to be slightly shocking at the time.. According to Wiki, it was banned from radio in Spain, Sweden, Brazil, the UK, Italy, Poland, Portugal and before 11 pm in France.

By the way, Happy Christmas to all of you out there! Don't let me disturb your post-lunch snore-fest.. 

23rd December. Stuck in Paris and in need of a quick Pays Basque fix?? Look no further..

I've mentioned before in these pages the fact that there is a distinct and separate Basque culture here. France it's not.. it's the Pays Basque. You won't have to spend too much time down here or have to travel far within its bounds before you'll hear this song.. sung beautifully here by Anne Etchegoyen and the Basque male voice choir Aizkoa. You can listen to more Basque songs by them here - you'll hear these and many other songs sung with vigour whenever Basques gather together - I particularly like their version of Oi Gu Hemen (the third in the above link). You can also listen to the street version here as it's sung during the Fêtes de Bayonne.
19th December. Don't know what to make of our current warm spell.. it was 24° (75°F) in Biarritz this afternoon.. We had a coffee sitting outside - watching all the shorts and t shirts strolling by.. Hard to believe that I'll be mano-à-mano with a live Christmas pudding in just a few days.. I'll manage though!☺

17th December. I was down in the cellar earlier looking at the wine situation with Christmas in mind. Just as forestry workers paint, chalk or spray a ring around trees that are destined for the chop, I was mentally eyeing up what we had, what we needed and which of the remaining good bottles were destined for the table.. Some kind soul had given us a bottle of 2008 Pomerol Chateau Monregard la Croix and I mentally sprayed a ring around it..  Looking forward to that one!

We also had a very welcome Red Cross* parcel arrive the other day - it contained a Christmas pudding and mince pies.. The taste of Christmas.. *Thanks Jon & Miki!

As it was 22°C (71°F) yesterday (yes, you heard - twenty two degrees..!) here's a glimpse of summertime in Biarritz in 1968.. Just looked at the forecast for the next few days and it's going to be 20+° until Saturday..

The things you learn on the internet.. I was just looking at the list of Christmas carols I linked to in the paragraph below and it appears that "Gabriel's Message" or "The angel Gabriel" is a Basque Christmas folk carol (in Basque: Birjina gaztetto bat zegoen). You can either drop this snippet into conversation the next time it goes quiet in the snug or, better still, save it for that late night game of "Pro-Celebrity No Rules" Scrabble!

We were out in the car this afternoon and we were watching the temperature read-out climbing forever upwards until it peaked at 23½°C.. I have to convert this into Ye Olde half-timbered wattle and daub Fahrenheit to get the full impact.. 74°F. There were people out and about in shorts and t-shirts.. I can't believe that this time next week we'll be sitting down to our Christmas meal and opening presents.. 

13th December. I was writing a few Christmas cards yesterday - and listening to Christmas carols at the same time on Madame's little internet radio (it works a treat - highly recommended) but despite that it was hard to get into the Christmas spirit when it was 17°C outside with blue skies. Complaineth I not though.. I remember going to buy a Christmas tree one year when we lived in England - it was a bitterly cold and raw Sunday afternoon and already turning dark.. Buying one here is a completely different experience!

8th December. Forgot to mention that I went down to the rowing club late on Saturday morning in time to meet all the boats as they returned. A problem with the joints at the base of my thumbs has kept me away for about three months. Not quite sure what the problem is but if it's no better in the New Year I'm going to try going out in a boat to see if there are any ill-effects. It was good to see everyone again - they're almost a second family to me. One of the small speedboats that the coaches use came back towing a empty pair oar. Apparently the two girls who'd been in it had contrived to turn it over. There's been a lot of wood in the river lately and I suspect they'd had a collision with a tree and there's usually only one winner when that happens. (ask me how I know!)

We won't be using our "Made in China" synthetic Christmas tree* this year.. We asked the tree man to lop the top 6-7 feet off from the tree he cut down and we've now got that waiting in the wings ready to be moved into the house.
* Add this to your ever-growing list of "Is there nothing they can't make" things.

The choir I sing with is busy rehearsing this piece by Mozart, ready for a concert sometime in the New Year. It's his "Coronation Mass" in C major K 317. I think it would be fair to say that we have quite some way to go before we're anywhere near the standard set by Laurence Equilbey and the Accentus Chamber Choir..!

7th December. Ker-ching! That's it.. Christmas shopping finished!☺

We've had a spell of bright sunny weather lately.. yesterday the temperature was up around 18°C (65°F) and so we took advantage of it by a morning trip to Biarritz. The sea was a sight to behold - it looked like someone had opened the doors of the wave factory! As each towering roller neared the beach, its crest was lifted off by the wind in silvery parabolas before it exploded in a melee of white foam. No surfers in evidence!

We parked ourselves at the Café Dodin on the Grande Plage to watch the spectacle.. One brave soul stripped off on the beach and walked down to the water's edge watched by all.. he didn't dally long before he was in. I think many envied him.. I know I did!

Today it's more of the same.. wall-to-wall blue skies. Problem for me is that it's difficult to associate the onset of Christmas with the weather.. I'm not complaining though!

A few days ago we had a tree feller to the house to take down a Christmas tree that someone had planted in the back garden before we arrived. It had grown to a good 50 feet high and it showed no signs of stopping.. We'd had one tree blown over a year or two ago in a storm and we didn't want to risk this one suffering the same fate - so down it had to come. The tree man wrapped himself up in something like a parachute harness and strapped on what looked like a pair of crampons and with his chain saw attached to his belt - plus other tools of his trade, he started shinning up the tree. Branches started tumbling down and every now and again there'd be an almighty dumph as a large section of trunk landed. He soon had all the major parts of the tree sawn up and I stacked those at the side of the house to dry out for a couple of years. He dragged all the branches outside where he had an industrial sized shredder that made short work of reducing everything into a mulch. He then returned to the garden with a leaf blower and blew off all the sawdust into the back border - job done! He'd started at 2pm and by 4pm he'd finished. I'd had thoughts of doing it all myself but without the tools I'd still be out there sawing everything up by hand with my bow saw..
22nd November. Two days ago it was 21° (70°F in real money) so we had lunch out in the garden. Yesterday, it was wild, windy and wet.. Today, we thought we'd nip across into Spain to do some shopping and as we approached the mountains, we could see that the summits of some (not too) distant peaks were covered in snow.. Explain me this.. (as they say here..)

I've been off rowing for a couple of months as I think I have tendonitis (possibly de Quervain's syndrome) around the base of both my thumbs. And before the suggestions come flooding in, I don't have a Blackberry or a mobile..! So I'm excused vacuuming.. (into each life a little rain must fall..!)
15th November.
Bleu Café, Grande Plage
9th November. According to the TV news last night, it was an unseasonal 27° in Biarritz and 28° at Saint-Jean-de-Luz yesterday.

8th November. We're enjoying an Indian summer here - yesterday we went to Saint-Jean-de-Luz and, as usual, pinched ourselves with our good fortune at being able to live here in this corner of France. The beach was crowded with late season sun-worshippers.. and there were quite a few in the water. The car indicated 25° - but it felt warmer than that in the sunshine. 

This morning we were in Biarritz (or Bayonne-Plage as wags in Bayonne refer to it!), once more enjoying the dazzling light, clear blue skies and 25°C (again!).. We stopped at the Bleu Café on the Grande Plage for a coffee. There must have been 100+ surfers out there - trying to catch the rollers as they marched in as if from a production line. 

There were more visitors in town than is usual.. I suspect many had combined a couple of holidays using a "bridge".. On the way to pick up a baguette from our favourite bakers we saw a bright red American 60s convertible (might have been an Impala?) coming towards us.. It looked to be the size of a cruise ship lifeboat. I can't think of a more unsuitable car for bumbling around the narrow winding streets of Biarritz. Parking (or mooring) a monster like this must be a nightmare.

I forgot to add that "The clock's ticking.." refers to the imminent arrival of Christmas.. We've been thinking about doing something then and so we've been looking around at places to go.. I'm not sure I want to be out on the roads then and also I'm not sure that I want to be in a commercial environment at that time of the year. We went out for New Year's Eve during our first year here and I don't want to repeat the experience. If we go anywhere it will be to here - our "ace in the hole" - Chez Pantxua (left and below) at Socoa.. We found this great family-run seafood restaurant 20+ years ago and in all that time the quality has never varied. For the freshest of seafood, cooked to perfection, in a friendly ambiance - there's nowhere better.

25th October. Here's a short video I made showing (part of) what happens during the Fêtes de Bayonne..

Monday, 7 September 2015

224. Calm before the storm

18th October. Had lunch in the garden today.. and the way this year is shaping up so far it could well be for the last time - the temp was around 18°C. I also oiled and greased the plancha and put it away in the garage for winter.

I've not mentioned the Rugby World Cup (I think) lately.. With rugby, it's either famine or feast.. Once a year, in February-March, we get the Six Nations tournament - where the six participating countries are roughly of equal ability. To me, it's the highlight of the sporting year (from an armchair perspective) and I rate it higher than the Olympics.. However, come the Rugby World Cup and we get drowned in a deluge of matches - sometimes three in a day. Maybe it's me but I'm afraid I can't get too excited over England - Uruguay or New Zealand - Tonga or Canada - Romania..

Occasionally however, there's a titanic clash between 2 countries where I genuinely don't care either way who wins the match - yet it's totally enthralling. Such a game was played yesterday between South Africa and Wales. I've never been a fan of Welsh rugby (and not just because they booted us out of the RWC!☺) but yesterday I think they shaded the match and <through gritted teeth> were unlucky to lose. Perhaps the South Africans were slightly fitter as they seemed to take charge in the final minutes. But, well done Wales.. I don't begin to understand how the players can take - and dish out - those monster hits.. I can't leave the Welsh without mentioning Dan Biggar (above). He's a great player and seldom misses his penalties - but (you know what's coming don't you!) he's adopted the bizarrest and most laughable of pre-kick routines.. Give the image below a few seconds to load.. OK, it obviously works for him but I think they should put screens around him while he does it. It's verging on an OCD..

As for the New Zealand - France game last night, I switched off after about 30 minutes. We in the northern hemisphere thought we had caught up with the superior fitness levels and play of the southern hemisphere sides - but clearly New Zealand (and to a slightly lesser extent the other two big sides Australia and South Africa) has raised the bar. The way the All Blacks started off during the opening 30 minutes was unwatchable. They played with a ferocity, an intensity and their customary disregard for the opponent's well-being that is uncomfortable to watch. I'm sorry - I'm probably wrong - but that's how I see it.

Sad to see Ireland exit the stage.. beaten by an Argentinian side with a 43-20 scoreline that flattered the Pumas. There aren't too many sides in the world game that could afford to lose through injury the likes of Paul O'Connell, Jonathan Sexton and that great flanker Peter O'Mahony.

Who would have thought that at this stage (before the Australia-Scotland match has been played) that it's odds-on that there won't be a single northern hemisphere country in the semi-finals..? Out (in alphabetical order) are: England, France, Ireland, Italy and Wales. The semi-finalists are New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina and (at the risk of annoying anyone north of Hadrian's Wall) most likely Australia. I'd put money on the final being between New Zealand and Australia. Now you're going to ask me who I'd like to see win it compared to who I think will win it? You'll have to email me for the answer to that question. I wouldn't want to upset either of my readers in New Zealand and Australia..

The question that will be exercising the governing bodies of Rugby Union across Europe tomorrow morning must surely be "Where do we go from here..?" It's time for those hard decisions to be taken.. In my view, both the England manager and the captain must be questioned. I think Stuart Lancaster is an honourable man and he's done a great job of rebuilding the side but unfortunately his selections have come up short - both in the 6N and the RWC. "More of the same" isn't an option.. As Martin Johnson once observed, "There are no points for style.." Chris Robshaw may be many things but a leader of men he isn't. Yes, he may do lots of unseen work but I'm afraid I can't remember a single memorable passage of play in which he was involved. No, if I was the CEO of the English RFU, I'd be tempted to call Sir Clive Woodward in for a chat and make him an offer he couldn't refuse. Not just cash either - but back the guy up with everything he needs. No back-stabbing - no quibbling over his methods - give him the job and support him 100%. He's a winner. Remember this Test match against New Zealand in Wellington in 2003? At one point England were playing with 13 men - and still they won. Winning in NZ is one thing - winning there when down to 13 men is another. He'd instilled belief in the players. It also helped that he knew his best XV...

I took the dog for a long walk along the beach at Anglet this morning.. and, unusually, the sea was flat calm. Miniscule waves, like those seen at a lakeside, lapped on the shore. (had to remind myself that this was the Atlantic) Looking out to sea somewhere between ½ mile and a mile, someone appeared to be walking on water  - just like this image, except his paddle and his board were invisible. A couple of thousand years ago, this would have been enough to trigger a new religion at the very least!

While I was down there, a café sign caught my eye.. it read "Le Coconuts".. Perhaps it's me being picky on a Sunday morning - but shouldn't this be "Le Coconut" or "Les Coconuts"? On this same theme, there's a shop in St-Jean-de-Luz called "Sweater's".. known as the Greengrocers' apostophe in England.

Don't get me started on greengrocers' spelling (right).. I've actually seen these spellings in markets in England.. (in case you're wondering, OBO-jeans are aubergines and Monge-Two are mangetout..) OK, I promise I'll get out more..!  
6th October. I've mentioned Ramiro Arrue before here.. his work encapsulated the Pays Basque to such an extent that it remains the graphic reference to this day. He painted in a deliberately naïf style that showed the simple dignity of the Basques in their daily activities. While I believe his work shows occasional signs of being influenced by Cézanne and Lautrec, he had a unique and enduring style.

If you'd like to explore the unspoilt Basque country on foot, I'd suggest you head for the Baztan valley in Spain (purists would argue this is still the Basque country - and they'd be right!). I mentioned it in Post 207 (scroll down the link about halfway). If you think you'd like to have a walking holiday (guided or unguided) there - then why not contact Georgina Howard who runs Pyrenean Experience..? Her holidays sound like a lot of fun. Here's a reminder of the area:

3rd October. I've always liked these old travel posters (& art works) of the Côte Basque - so much so that I finally put together a short video of some of them. Some are influenced by Toulouse-Lautrec, while others tip their hat to the Cubists or to Art Deco.. Ramiro Arrue's work is in there too. All are interesting in their own way. (PS I know the music isn't Basque but to me it's a summer sound.. and it just seems right. Look here and here)
26th September. We were invited to an afternoon repas with the Goraki Choir in Ciboure today.. the night before they'd given a concert at the Saint-Jean-Baptiste church, St-Jean-de-Luz.

This is a mixed Basque choir and we know a few people who sing with them. The venue for the meal
was the parish hall, hidden in a narrow winding street in Ciboure.. The massively beamed hall was up on the first floor with stunning views across the river into the harbour of St-Jean-de-Luz - views that would have had estate agents salivating.. More photos of the concert here.

The organisation was impressive.. rows of tables had been set out - enough to cope with the 170+ guests who were expected. To go with a welcome glass of local cider, teams of helpers were circulating with all kinds of appetisers - delicious small sausages known as "loukankas", a variety of quiches, cold soups in small cups, a mix of potato salad and cod - again in a small cup - and other delights. After much to-ing and fro-ing and general shuffling about, we all eventually sat down - only to jump smartly to our feet as the room resounded with a Chant d'Honneur that was sung with an impressive vigour.. Each place setting came with its own Basque song sheet.

A number of planchas had been set up outside and a small team were hard at work cooking over well over 1,000 gambas (left). Clouds of blue smoke rose up from the planchas as the gambas sizzled. They were delicious.. and, as they had to be eaten with the fingers, each table had been well-stocked with finger wipes.. While all this was going on, a few musicians kept stoking the fires by singing some Basque favourites.. Corks were being popped like at an Irish wedding as we all settled to the task.

Meanwhile, the plancha team weren't slackening off - we could see them slaving outside over their planchas - loading them with enough ribs of beef (côtes de bœuf) to feed the assembled masses.. Teams of ladies came round with platters piled high with substantial slices of rare beef (right).. This was neither the time nor the place to be a vegetarian.. this was red beef - red in tooth and claw.. It had clearly been hung as it was as tender as you like. A long time since either of us had had meat as good as this. Nouveau cuisine..? Fuhgeddaboutit..!

More outbursts of singing punctuated the chomping of beef.. as seconds were brought around. (in case you're wondering - yes, I did!)

The choir formed up and sang for us - Basque voices have a unique timbre to them that's very distinctive. Unfortunately for non-basque speakers, the language is completely impenetrable and gives no clue at all as to the meaning of the song. On the positive side, they have some great tunes that are instantly memorable.

Cheese and dessert followed and soon the coffee came out. We had to make an early exit as our poor pooch was at home alone. Luckily he likes his sleep these days.

A great day and one in which it was plain to see the pleasure and the pride that everyone present took in their culture.               

25th September. A new expression caught my ear the other day: bourré de pognon*.. When I first heard it, I thought it sounded rather like one of those flowery menu descriptions in a trendy restaurant.. like Ecrasée de pommes de terre - which is how mashed potatoes are currently described in über-trendy restaurants here (Ecrasée = crushed). 

"Yes, I'd like the bourré de pognon to start with, followed by .." etc etc.

* For anyone desperate to know the answer, it means "stuffed with money"..

We finished up at La Plancha, Bidart this afternoon. It's situated overlooking the beach at Ilbarritz (just to the south of Biarritz). Well worth a visit..

11th September. There was a piece on Télématin (France 2) this morning that featured the Musée de l'Annonciade at Saint-Tropez. Made a mental note to go there one day. Some wonderful paintings there.. Scroll down this link and see what you think..

I gave Madame one of those internet radios the other day.. Without wishing to sound as though I'm on commission, the performance is - no other word for it - simply staggering.. Not only does it have the capability to access over 10,000 internet radios - but it can also work as a FM radio, or DAB radio.. It can also receive podcasts.. and input from other devices.. Simplicity itself to use as well.  I found myself exploring Cuban radios - and stations around the Caribbean.. before returning to European stations. Needless to say, Madame is totally delighted with it. She says it's right up there with her Mac laptop. Praise indeed..!  

10th September. If you like jazz, try TSF Jazz..

Gai Yang
It was a visit to a Thai restaurant in Biarritz the other day that made me think of this.. If you like Thai food - and you live in Seattle, this is for you.. I was fortunate that for a few years I had to make regular visits to Seattle for work. I was taken out one day for lunch at Saya Restaurant, a Japanese-Thai restaurant at 8455 S 212th St, Kent, WA 98031. Someone said to me what I'm about to say to you - "Just trust me and order the Gai Yang.." (Thai BBQ chicken). By far the best BBQ'd chicken I've ever had - and astonishingly good value. What wouldn't I give for one now..! Menu here. When I used to go there in the mid-1990s, it was $7.00. Twenty years on it's still only $8.50.. How many marks out of 10? 17..! I remember once going there after I hadn't been for more than a year.. the waitress took one look at me and said, "Gai Yang, right?" Over a period of a few years, I went through the menu there - tried every dish - didn't have one I didn't enjoy - but their Gai Yang was by far the best.

10th September. If you somehow managed to miss the final of the Mens' VIII from the world rowing championships at the beautiful lake of Aiguebelette in the Savoie last weekend, you're in luck - click here.. The race ended up as a "toe to toe" slugfest between Germany and Britain. Keep an eye on the stylish Kiwi crew.. A pity they ran out of gas in the last 500m. A future race-winning boat if ever I saw one.

9th September. Spare a thought for your poor correspondent - he's frantically trying to finish translating a number of speeches (fortunately from French => English) that have arrived late from various people so that they'll be ready in time for the weekend.. Desperate measures have been called for!   

7th September. I'll probably get howled down for being a complete philistine (again!) but I think this next piece would have received J S Bach's imprimatur.. It's his Brandenburg Concerto No 3 in G major played on a synthesiser.. (cries of "Hanging's too good for them!")

Compare it with the more traditional version:

What do you think? I'm not saying one is better than the other - I think the modern version can stand comparison with the original. 

Anyway, moving on, loins are being girded in anticipation of the forthcoming weekend's exertions.. Yes, it's the annual Comète commemorative weekend - where around 100 or so people from all parts of the world gather together at St-Jean-de-Luz to pay homage to those of the Comète Line who gave so much during WWII. On the Saturday and Sunday, we'll be tracing one of the wartime escape routes taken by the Comète guides and the evading airmen from Ciboure over the Pyrenees and into Spain. 

At times like this, I wish I'd spent at least a few days up in the hills this year but for one reason or another that didn't happen. However, I know I won't be the only one! Here's the forecast for Saturday and Sunday.. looks like it could be damp. Warm but damp..