Tuesday, 26 April 2011

140. Maj Bloodnok

26th April 2011. Next month sees the arrival of Maj Bloodnok and Mrs B to these parts. A larger than life character, he's been mentioned before here. I'm looking forward to showing them the Basque country. 

Two more months and the tourist season starts here.. can't believe it!

Here's something to get you in the mood..
The plancha is still sitting in the garage waiting for the weather to change permanently into summer. The green square of grass (haven't mentioned that for a while) is finally starting to look like a lawn - but I'm not holding my breath. Birds have been pecking holes in it the size of coffee cups (the little darlings!).

If, as has been suggested, we're in for a major heat wave this summer, there's no need to worry about the well-being of your correspondent - I've got an idea:
I've been trying to avoid mentioning 'the' wedding but, as an example of the insanity that's gripping some sections of the British media at the moment, this article takes the biscuit. I won't be mentioning you-know-what again.

Here's a YouTube clip I made of our Andalusian trip.. (for some reason the YouTube image below has been made up from a composite of several of my photographs and the resultant mess has something of Gustav Klimt about it - no?) 

28th April 2011. Nice outing in an VIII sculler this evening - apart from an attack of cramp! Warm sunny evening, with a light breeze blowing up the river. Did 14km. (Running total 616km)

29th April 2011. In case you're wondering, I'll be mostly knitting myself a royal corgi today.. (aaaaaggghhh!)
30th April 2011. I don't usually comment on royal matters here but I have to admit - as someone who has previously held views unfavourable to the monarchy - that if William and Kate represent the future then - judging from afar - it will be no bad thing. Without naming names, a few previous generations could easily be described as dysfunctional stiffs - a good handful of whom I would personally cast out without so much as a second glance, whereas the newly weds seem refreshingly normal. Long may they remain so.

31st April 2011. Lovely and sunny out on the river this morning - I went out in a bateau de nenettes which is always fun.
We changed positions a few times to make sure everyone got a row. We did 14km (Running total: 630km).

Semi finals of the H Cup as they call it here (Heineken Cup to us Anglos). It's Toulouse - Leinster today and tomorrow sees Northampton locking horns with Perpignan.. Difficult to spot the winner but tipsters are making Leinster favourites to win today's encounter with Perpignan perhaps edging the game tomorrow in what will surely be a titanic clash.

Read this in today's paper:

Prince Harry was said to have insisted that bacon and sausage sandwiches were available later in the night. An ice cream van was also said to have been hired to provide an alternative dessert.

Sounds like this could mean an end to the all-pervading stuffiness that has surrounded the Royals for far too long..

2nd May 2011. Missing Person. Recognise/worked with/know this face? His name is Dominic Dickson (34) and has been seen in Rochefort, Charente-Maritime (2010), at Saint Agnant, Charente-Maritime (2009) and at Limoges, Haute-Vienne (2008). He's 1m70 tall (5'7") and has been working as a paysagiste (landscape gardener).
If so, contact his parents via this link or by phone: 05 55 00 80 37.

Friday, 22 April 2011

139. Plan for tomorrow

22nd April 2011. I can still feel last night's outing on the river..! Went out in a mixed VIII sculler with an unfamiliar face at stroke. A powerfully built oarswoman, she took us way up the river and it wasn't long before the usual chatter emanating from the fairer sex in the boat (I'll get shot for that!) dried up as the pace quickened. After a long sortie consisting of firm rowing interspersed with short sprints, we returned in one piece from the turn-around before completing the last 2km at racing pace. Afterwards I needed 2 hands to turn the ignition key in the car! 17km (Running total: 590km).

Unwinding on the terrace last night with a glass of cold rosé, I could hear the first unmistakeable sounds of a Basque band practising for the Fête de Bayonne later in the year. The drum section were rattling through what sounded like those classic slow drum rolls that were played (if you believe the movies!) when the tumbrils rolled towards the guillotine. Spooky sound.

The plan for attacking Urt tomorrow via the up-river route has been shelved due to the tidal conditions that will prevail. We'll still be heading up the Adour but only as far as Lahonce. The bottles are in the fridge already for my return.. (one each of rosé and oxygen!)

23rd April 2011. Plan A changed into Plan B and this morning, on the riverbank, it morphed effortlessly into Plan C..! We set off downstream for a change - through the centre of Bayonne (which is currently celebrating la Foire au Jambon) which was decorated with a ginormous inflatable jambon de Bayonne! We rowed out past the Port de Plaisance before returning.. 12km (Running total: 602km)
24th April 2011. I forgot to mention that as we returned upriver to the town centre, we encountered several all-girl traînières (I think from the Association Ibaïalde, Anglet - tell me if I've got it wrong). They all had a mightily impressive swing - from way forward to way back it looked to be around 120°.
Yesterday the town centre was choc-a-bloc with activities relating to the Foire au Jambon. There was a hot air balloon tethered and traditional marching and then the main programme began at 10am with the championnat de France de cuisine à la plancha. (you don't need me to translate that do you?) Then, from 10.30am-midday, there was a démonstration de jeu de paume par le club jeu de paume de Navarre, at the Trinquet Saint-André. Also at 10.30am there was a démonstration de traînières sur la Nive avec Ibaïalde (course exclusivement féminine) - this is what we saw from our boat. Then, slacken off your belts a notch, at 11am there was a concours d’omelettes au jambon avec les associations bayonnaises. (A ham omelette competition!) At the same time, Basque choirs were singing at the Market Hall with the final being held in the Cathedral cloisters.. (Baiona Kantuz aux Halles avec un final au Cloître). And at 2.30pm, Aviron Bayonnais were kicking off against the darlings of Paris - Stade Français. The town could have held a creative parking competition in association with this match as cars were parked all over town with a verve, imagination and complete disregard for the the rules matched only by the Neapolitans - who don't so much park their cars as abandon them. Bayonne scored an avalanche of tries to emerge with a thumping 54-20 victory.. Well done AB!

Here's the programme for today:

9am: Intronisation des nouveaux membres de la Confrérie du Jambon de Bayonne à la Maison des associations.

10am: Défilé des confréries de la Maison des associations vers la cathédrale.

11am: Messe traditionnelle de Pâques en la cathédrale en présence des confréries et animée par la chorale Errobi Kanta.

12am: Défilé des confréries de la cathédrale vers la Maison des associations.

5.30pm: Bal des confréries, à la Maison des associations.

8.30pm: Vulcanalia, spectacle équestre de l’artiste Gilles Fortier aux arènes.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

138. Back in town

20th April 2011. Back from Andalusia on Sunday evening.. and we've been busy getting things back to normal here since then. Clearing the inbox & mowing the lawn - both of which had flourished in our absence, and well, all the rest of it. Really enjoyed Andalusia.. we were lucky with the weather - it was above 30° most days with it peaking at 36° while we were in Seville. Low humidity made it very pleasant though.
Hotel Don Miguel, Ronda
We started in Malaga and then over the following week we visited Ronda, Arcos, Seville, Cordoba, Granada before returning to Malaga. This clip below was early morning in Ronda - from the spectacular terrace of the Hotel Don Miguel (where we had one night) perched on the edge of the vertiginous gorge of the Río Guadalevín. Turn up the volume - no tourists, just the birds singing:
And this was a late night visit to a flamenco cellar in Granada.. (a bit touristy I know)

We (the Royal we) discovered El Corte Inglés - a Spanish department store chain - while in Spain. Probably not news to 99% of you but it was to us. Not having the car with us saved my credit card from a Fukushima-style meltdown though! There's a slideshow of the trip here..

Whilst in Paris - we had a day free there before leaving for Spain - we swung by an old favourite Franc Pinot (1, Quai de Bourbon on the Ile St Louis) but it looked as if it had been closed for a long time. And on our return, we thought we'd stop off at La Rhumerie for one of their legendary rum based cocktails - but it too was closed (for re-decoration - it re-opens 19th May). One new place we tried that was open was Le Zimmer, a traditional brasserie near Châtelet.. worth remembering if you're in the area.

We stayed M & C, old (French) friends of Madame's from the 60s, and they had me laughing with a story of when they were once on holiday in England staying with friends. Apparently the lady of the house was about to toss the salad one evening when M got to his feet and announced to one and all that he would do it as he was a great tosser..! Apparently his English hosts cried with laughter at this - much to his bemusement!

We were both surprised by the prices in cafés in central Paris - we stopped for a drink just across from BHV and it seemed as though the minimum currency unit was 5€. A small beer was 5.10€! A coffee 5€..! Ouch!

Meanwhile, back in the Pays Basque, we picked up the pooch yesterday morning and he slept all day - I don't think he must have had much sleep at the kennel. He was in a daze most of the day..
Rowing last night - beautiful warm cloudless evening out on the Nive - did 13km in a VIII sculler. (Running total: 573km) By the way, that's the club above on the left. There's a long outing planned for this coming Saturday morning - a number of boats are heading up the Adour as far as Urt (difficult to pronounce) - which is about 20km upriver (map here). One set of crews will row up river and will change over at Urt with another set who will have driven up there. I'll be in an VIII going upriver. And it's an 8am start..! Luckily the forecast is for cooler weather on Saturday.

A link for our readers in France - click on your department and then your town or village..

By the way, it was 28° here yesterday afternoon.. Madame had bought a v drinkable AOC Gaillac dry rosé from Leclerc. It really hit the spot yesterday lunchtime.. (Obligatory warning notice: it's 13° so, as they say here: à consommer avec modération)
I spotted this story in SUR - the giveaway English language newspaper in southern Spain..

Monday, 4 April 2011

137. Andalusia

4th April 2011. We've been struggling with our internet connection (no names - but there's a clue in the colour of the record label below..) We had to phone the Call Centre in Tunisia (of all places!) on our mobile to sort it out..  Following the instructions over the phone I ended up on the floor pulling out the dusty tangle of electric spaghetti from under my desk in order to disconnect my router, before resetting the LiveBox and then reconfiguring it according to the distant voice - before going for a walk for an hour while ones and noughts were fine-tuned from afar. Miracle of miracles, when I switched on again - it was all working as advertised. We have a single broadband connection that gives us the internet, TV and unlimited free* phone calls within Europe and to N America so when it goes down, we feel a bit isolated!      
* unlimited for 7€ a month.
Now tell me you don't rate Harry Nilsson..

On Thursday, we're away on a trip first to Paris, then Andalusia in southern Spain for a week or so. We take the TGV up to Paris on Thursday, staying with friends of Madame's for a couple of days before flying to Malaga.
This is a trip organised by a group of current and ex-'profs' from Madame's old school - we had a weekend away with them last May when we went up to Rouen - and they're a really nice crowd. The trip is a tour of Andalusia visiting Malaga, Ronda, Granada, Seville and all stations in between. During the week, we're staying in about 5 different hotels and there's a coach to take us everywhere. All meals and wine are included.. It's a region I've not visited before so I'm really looking forward to it. The temps are forecast to be up in the high 20s in the afternoons. 

To finish up with, here's a clip that combines three of my favourite things in life.. Django Reinhardt, rowing and the Impressionists:
The artist is Ferdinand Gueldry who has up until now completely escaped my radar.

Well, as we're talking about favourite things in life, I'd better include this piece by Chet Baker. I'm in the "less is more" camp when it comes to jazz and if you're not sure what I mean by that, take a few minutes to have a listen to this:

5th April 2011. I must mention something that's been stuck in my mind ever since our trip up to Arès (across from Arcachon) last Friday - we drove past a supermarket that was called Le Mutant..! With all the health scares about GM foods, factory farming, growth hormones and all the rest of the brave new world that is modern agriculture, wouldn't you think that, out of all the thousands of potential names there were to pick from, perhaps a better name could have been chosen?

Lunch outside again today..! Just picked up Madame from Biarritz - according to the car, it was 25½°C (or 78° in Ye Olde Fahrenheit) this afternoon.

Went out in an VIII sculler on a beautifully balmy cloudless blue evening with a warm slanting sun. Did 12km (Running total: 560km) Had a quick shower at home and ate out on the terrace.    

6th April 2011. The dog is spread-eagled on the tiled floor in the kitchen - it's 28°C in the shade in the garden.. or 82½°F if there's someone out there still using Ye Olde Royal & Ancient Fahrenheit. According to the TF1 Météo this evening (via the ever-charming Evelyne Dhéliat) it was 31° down in St Jean de Luz this afternoon..  

Now I'm off to pack my suitcase - you'll have to talk amongst yourselves for a few days!

Friday, 1 April 2011

136. Summer's here (maybe)

31st March 2011. At last, we've reached the end of March and we can say finally goodbye to winter. No more endless days of dripping rain.. or squalls that blow in from the Bay of Biscay. Now the windows are open wide, the heating is off and the padded jackets are back in storage.. I've just given the table and chairs for the terrace their first wipe down with teak oil.. Next up? The plancha.. Its creaking journey from the dusty corner of the garage and up the steps to the terrace has all the mystery of the construction of Stonehenge. How did he manage to shift it without using a crane or block and tackle..? And without giving himself a hernia! 

What is it about France that appeals to some of us Anglo-Saxons? I'm presuming if you're reading this that you fall into the Francophile category. There remains, however, a sizeable wodge of people in England who are highly suspicious of all things Gallic; who are paranoid about any trace of Frenchness entering their lifestyle. Garlic studded into a roast leg of lamb? Sacrilege! A French car..? Never..! Poncey French wine? No chance, mate - Jacob's Sheep Dip for me!

Being smitten with our neighbours across the Channel works both ways though. Last night I went to the Spanish cultural centre over the river to pick up Madame after her Spanish class and on my way in to the building I helped an elderly lady (OK, she was just a few years older than me) who had difficulty walking. She was taking a Spanish class as well but in the one after Madame's. It turned out that this lady was a former teacher of English and when she realised I was English she was soon waxing nostalgic about Penzance where she'd spent many happy holidays. She gave me her card and insisted that we come round one day for an apéro..
1st April 2011. We went up to Arès (just to the north of Arcachon) today to see Madame's brother O and his wife F. See how many names of famous wines* you can spot on the map above.. (I'll give you a clue - don't waste any time looking for Jacob's Creek or Tesco's "Great with Chicken"!!) They're renting a place there for a few weeks while they house hunt around and about. They want to move away from the Paris region down to the warmer south west and it didn't disappoint today - it was 29°C! We had lunch outside and afterwards went for a walk down to the bay. It was still 27°C here when we returned home at 8.15pm.

In a quick 10 second squint I counted 13 - there are probably a few more.

2nd April 2011. 14km on the river this morning - running total: 548km.

3rd April 2011. I discovered Mandion this morning.. Our neighbour mentioned the name to us the other day so this morning I thought I'd take a peek. The shop is set back off the RN10 in Anglet and it's fairly easy to miss. To call it a mere cake shop would be doing it an injustice. This establishment is nothing less than a temple dedicated to the art of the pâtissier and the cakes and chocolate on display are the ne plus ultra in the area.  The experience was reminiscent of going to look at puppies - it was impossible to leave without one. Up until now, Madame has bought her cakes at the excellent L Raux pâtisserie in the centre of Bayonne - but I suspect that might be about to change.