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.