Wednesday, 20 November 2013

209. Rinse cycle in the Pays Basque

20th November 2013. It's been a wet month so far in the Pays Basque.. and the Nive has had more than its fair share of assorted lumber of all sizes floating down it during the past few weeks. Last Saturday I was out in the club's beautiful Filippi wooden shell VIII and we had to be pretty nimble in avoiding some of the larger pieces floating out there as it would have been all too easy to have irreparably damaged its fragile honey-coloured wooden skin. Higher up the river there was a whole tree lodged against the river bank that will present someone with a problem before too long (it's too big to pass under the bridges in town) as it slowly drifts its way downstream. I remember an outing in a coxless IV about 2 years ago (grisly details here) when we had an unscheduled coming together with a floating tree that launched us all - in slow motion - into a very cold river (in January!)..

It's difficult in words (for me) to capture the appeal of rowing on the river on a calm summer's evening. This image explains it waay better than I ever could: 

And for those of us who've often wondered what it must be like to soar like an eagle (and who can honestly say they haven't?☺), well, here's the answer. Someone has fitted an eagle with a lightweight camera.. The scene is the Mer de Glace outside Chamonix..
When I was there in the 60s, the glacier looked like this (below) - not the dirt track that it now appears to have become (above).
Mer de Glace
Something reminded me the other day of this haunting song by Enya (to be honest I was clearing the garage out of a few centuries-worth of muck and bullets and it came up on the radio).
I found myself humming it all day as I cleared the countless cobwebs that festooned the garage walls and swept up plaster dust, old rusty bolts and other delights. There was an assortment of ancient brackets and other ironmongery bolted to the walls - connected to the tale our neighbour told us that one previous owner of the house had been a butcher (who used the garage for slaughtering pigs). These fittings were attached with massively over-engineered fixings that hadn't been touched for years and which were mostly rusted up. Fortunately I have a set of sockets and a ratchet that made removing all the fittings easier than it might otherwise have been.

But - remembering the 1st Rule of Home DIY: if you have to remove 12 rusty nuts that have been untouched since the Spanish Civil War, 11 of them will unscrew more or less easily. That's all I'm sayin'.. (I did manage later to pop that vein back in my forehead!)

And 10 litres of white paint later, the garage walls are looking presentable again.. (the things you do when it's raining!☺)

Sunday, 24th November. I've mentioned the name of Andrée Dumon (aka "Nadine") several times here before - she was a guide for the Comète network during WWII. Here she is in Perth, Australia recounting parts of her extraordinary story.

When reading and listening to these accounts of wartime courage, I suspect I'm not alone in asking myself the unanswerable question: "What would I have done?". People like "Nadine" stepped forward and chose the path of greatest resistance.

Tuesday, 26th November. Cold day today - a bracing 2° this morning.. We went over to Spain to do some shopping and ended up staying for lunch. Found a place that was offering a 3 course lunch (that included magret de canard) including 2 glasses of the red infuriator each and coffee.. (If you must know - it came to a wallet-busting 27.60€ for two!☺)

Most of the trees still had their leaves.. What normally happens next is that a storm will blow through and all the leaves will disappear overnight.

I guarantee you'll be unable to watch this next clip without your mouth watering! I like it all - except for the presentation at the end.. the artfully arranged plate.. the few drops of sauce.. Down here in the south west, a magret de canard would never be served like this..

Is it me - or does anyone else uncomfortable with this modern practice of using fingers to arrange and prod into position the ingredients on a plate as it's "assembled" (as he calls it)..?? 

This next clip is a very familiar piece that the choir is rehearsing for a concert next year. Yes, it's familiar - but it's none the worse for that. We'll be singing it in the original German - and I must admit to finding it reassuring that some of the choir struggle with the pronunciation of a foreign language. So it's not just us then!

Amazon's tasting notes on Talisker 10 year old Single Malt whisky have this to say:

Tasting Notes:
Nose: Powerful peat-smoke with seawater saltiness, the liquor of fresh oysters and a citrus sweetness.
Palate: Rich dried-fruit sweetness with clouds of smoke and strong barley-malt flavours: warming and intense. At the back of the mouth.
Finish: Sweet malty flavours that blend into a smoky climax.

Sounds as though I'll have to close the shutters for this one! The 18 year old Talisker is apparently the one that wins all the awards.

Thursday 28th November. Went to Errenteria (just outside San Sebastian) yesterday morning for a committee meeting of the local Comète association with the Spanish representatives. Afterwards we were led around a few bars as it was too early for lunch (1pm!). Very reasonable.. for 4 glasses of  Rioja, I handed over a 10€ note and received a 5€ note back and a handful of shrapnel..! We had an excellent lunch – starting at 3pm – at Zuketza stylish bar/restaurant. I had marmitako to start with - almost a meal in itself. It's a rich and very satisfying tuna soup/stew.. For 3 courses, including 2 bottles of wine (I'd better add that there were 6 of us), coffee and a brandy, it worked out at just 17€ each..! Definitely somewhere to revisit.☺

I may be off-line for a while as another piece of translation work landed in my in-tray with an ominously heavy thud this afternoon.

The rowing club is having another "apéro" evening at TipiTapa (right) again in a few days time. If the present weather is anything to go by it will only be the hardened smokers among us who will be standing outside. We've had some really cold weather down here over the last few days with clear night-time skies and temperatures hovering just above 0°C. TipiTapa is a peña that has been set up in an old casemate in the fortifications and ramparts that encircle Bayonne (designed by Vauban in the 17th century) that were intended to keep the Brits (& others) at arm's length!  
A quiet night in at TipiTapa!
This was Bayonne in former times..

The eternal Maria Callas would have been 90 today. I'm ashamed to say it took me too long to appreciate her voice. Here she is singing two of perhaps her greatest recordings:   

Tuesday, 3rd December. After some bitingly cold days here (stop sniggering in Nebraska!☺) it was a pleasure to be out and about this afternoon in Saint-Jean-de-Luz (below) under a burning blue sky in the dazzlingly bright sunshine.. 
The bay was virtually flat calm, the distant Pyrenees were shrouded in a silvery haze and there was this 2 masted ketch swinging lazily at anchor (that set me thinking - always dangerous!)..  
The car indicated 16.5°C (62°F) on the way down to St-J-de-L but sitting over a coffee outside the Bar de la Marine (below) in the Place Louis XIV in the sun, I'm sure the temp was 20°+.. Is there a better place anywhere to enjoy a day like that..?

After my recent 3 week stint in the garage, I started making a list of the "10 Commandments for the Home DIY enthusiast":

1.There’s no such thing as a simple job.
2. If it isn’t broken, fix it until it is.☺
3. If the screw isn’t going in, use a bigger hammer.☺
4. The drill bit you want is the one that’s missing from the box.
5. Never be tempted to change the drill bit with the power on. (I'll tell you the story one day!)
6. Measure twice. Cut once. (Never the other way around!☺)
7. The best tool is a mug of coffee. Look at the job often - thinking time is never wasted.
8. One from Lesley: Things thrown away will be required within the week. (So true!)
9. If you are in desperate need of one item to finish a job, the shops will be closed.
Two more from Lesley:
10. A dropped Allen tool, nut, bolt or screw will always travel to the most inaccessible place.
11. As soon as you get your hands greasy you will develop an itchy nose or want to use the lavatory.
12. When the shop is finally open, the single item you want comes in a pack of six.
13. If it's your lucky day, and the shop sells the item you need in a single pack, they will have it in two sizes: too large and too small.
14. You've been saving something for 20 years knowing that one day you'll need it. When that day finally arrives, you can't remember where you left it. (happened to me yesterday!)

 Let me know yours and I'll include them!

It's been a while since we've heard from Gordon Lightfoot - so to put that right, here's a topical song from him:
Friday, 6th December. By now, most of you will have figured out how I work..

And finally: I'd not intended to add any more to this post but I've just read something that resonated with me - something that I hope you will nod your head to as well.

I'd been reading about Brad Pitt* who reportedly has just bought himself a Spitfire for ~US$3m..(as you do) and it turns out that you can learn to fly one at the only flying school in the world that will let you grip the control column of a Spitfire with your hot sticky hands.
* He's not the first Hollywood celeb to fly warbirds. 
A Singaporean pilot, Paul Jansen, describes his experience here and I was reading through his well-written account of his close encounter with a Spitfire when I came across the few words in question. 

He writes: "A few days ago, Nora Ephron, a brilliant screenwriter and director who first came to my attention with her romantic comedies "When Harry Met Sally" and "Sleepless In Seattle", died of leukemia aged 71."

In an interview with Reuters, she said: "At some point, your luck is going to run out... You are very aware with friends getting sick that it can end in a second."

"You should eat delicious things while you can still eat them, go to wonderful places while you still can... and not have evenings where you say to yourself, "What am I doing here? Why am I here? I am bored witless!"

Exactamundo! As someone once said, "Life is not a practice.. You don't go around again.."

I had a thorough medical examination a couple of months ago (a standard annual requirement at the rowing club). My heart was thumping away like a single cylinder marine diesel at 54bpm, my blood pressure at 120/80 was that of a 20 year old (a 20 year old what though!) and I was booked in for an effort test on an exercise bike. This came up a week or two ago - following which I was declared to be in excellent shape. But - as Nora Ephron rightly observed - all that can change in a second. So while I am eternally grateful for the present, one of these days my luck will run out. Until then though, I'm going to try and enjoy life. And where better to enjoy it than the Pays Basque. Tuesday afternoon's trip was a timely reminder of just how lucky we are.

Final, final word: If you're ever in the area, and you feel a pressing need to severely lighten your wallet one lunchtime, I can be made available for appointments here at very short notice!☺

(It's the Hotel du Palais, Biarritz..) If you'd like to slaver over more of the best restaurants in the Basque country, look no further than here..

11th December. News just in: “Yesterday, hundreds of dyslexic mourners laid flowers outside Nissan main dealers across the UK..”

Friday, 1 November 2013

208. Pays Basque autumn

1st November 2013. Today is Toussaint.. a day to keep off French roads. It's a public holiday here and it's a time when families make their traditional annual pilgrimage to visit family graves - something that can involve elderly people who are unused to driving long distances driving hundreds of kilometres to the cemetery in the family village in their region of origin. 

Once there, magnificent displays of chrysanthemums will be left by the thousand at the graves of loved ones. Following the observance of this annual ritual, the local restaurants will be packed with white haired clients for a good lunch, following which they may or may not take to the highways again. It's widely recognised as being one of the most dangerous times to be at large on French roads. 

I walked by the flower shop this morning at the bottom of our road which has, for the last few days, sported a beautiful display of potted chrysanthemums like the ones here. At lunchtime today, only a handful of bedraggled specimens were left - looking akin to the last chicken in the supermarket at closing time on Saturday evening! 

Walking into town this morning to the one baker that is always open come what may, it was odd to see how quiet things were.. Very few people out and about apart from a strong contingent of Spanish tourists who, fed up with closed shops in Spain, had come here to see what closed shops look like in France. Even the cafés were closed.

Question for someone: I was out walking the dog yesterday in a nearby park when I saw a butterfly.. Knowing zilch about such things, surely this is an unseasonable appearance? Are butterflies usually out and about on 31st October? It was a white one - I'd be tempted to call it a cabbage white.

I don't usually watch rugby league but as the two codes have become almost indistinguishable these days I'm tempted to see if I can find coverage of the France - New Zealand match tonight in the Rugby League World Cup.    

I doubt if the inside of the garage has been cleaned and painted for 20 years – there’s flaking paint, cobwebs and dust everywhere.. So a few days ago I started clearing assorted junk from two walls and sweeping the floor and walls and then filling holes and cracks.. Then when that’s dried, I’m going to paint with some heavy duty paint – then it’ll the turn of the other two walls.. After that, the ceiling – except it’s very high.. Not sure yet how I’m going to get up there. Then I’m going to paint the concrete floor with special paint for concrete. While I’m at it, I’m going to be having a clear out to get rid of some of the junk.. It’s a job I’ve been meaning to do for a while. (Did someone mention retirement?!) 

Another job that needs doing is sorting out some trees.. The palm tree (must be 50 ft high) in front hasn’t had its dead branches pruned for years; then there’s a yew tree at the side that’s grown out of control.. that needs cutting back to a size I can manage each year and finally the big tree down the garden – think it’s a cypress – is too big. It's dropping needles all over the grass and it’s killed the lawn there – so it’s going to come down.. It’s no loss as it cuts the evening sun.. plus pigeons nest in it and they've been pecking holes in the lawn.. We had a firm around to give us an estimate for the work.. 1150€! This included 400€ just to take all the wood away..

Words you'll never read here:
Movemberchillaxing, staycation, twerking & innit.

3rd November 2013. We had some friends around for lunch today and they had their 6 year old black English cocker spaniel with them. As the skies had cleared following some earlier rain showers, we drove down to the beach in the afternoon to give the dogs a good run.. It was nearly high tide and white foamy waves were surging up the beach (just as below) - and of course, this was just too much temptation for our friends' dog..! After rolling about in the foam he then started digging his way to Australia..
9th November 2013. Another rugby Autumn International about to kick off.. England - Argentina.. These autumn international matches are just an appetiser for the big event: ie, the 6 Nations Championship - arguably the best sporting competition in the world.. (IMHO!) Here's a link to the official RBS 6 Nations YouTube site where you can watch the best of the action from previous years.

Here are the highlights of England's match against Argentina.. Yes, it was a win against a powerful Pumas team but - was it convincing? I'm not so sure.. I thought England looked directionless in the second half and they allowed the Pumas to put points on the board. As others have said, the acid test will come next Saturday when the New Zealand All Blacks are in town. Anyway, let's just enjoy the win and maybe they will gain some much-needed confidence from the result:
Sign of the Times Department: Driving past our local Leclerc supermarket late on Friday evening (en route to watch Woody Allen's latest film "Blue Jasmine") I noticed that the store already had its Christmas illuminations lit.. This is the earliest I can remember seeing Christmas lights as the Pays Basque generally lights up far later than is the case in the UK. We saw the film (in VO - version originale- ie, English) at a packed late showing at Biarritz - there were seven of us in there!☺ Watching a film you know well that's been dubbed never works for me. A few months ago, one of the French channels showed "Out of Africa" dubbed in French. It made it a completely different film and for me it was unwatchable. Try this clip and see for yourself.

One illuminated sign that is often seen here during the Christmas season is this one - Zorionak - that I believe means (feel free to correct me if I'm wrong!) Holiday Greetings in Basque.. Now you know what to say to the vicar when he comes round for his pre-Christmas sherry!

Meanwhile, I hear you ask "So, what did you think of Woody Allen's latest?" Without giving too much away, it's the story of a rich wife's fall from grace and her attempts to rebuild her life in straitened circumstances. One thing's for certain, I'm convinced that Cate Blanchett will pick up an Oscar for her outstanding performance in the film.. She was completely believable in the title role..

Here's Woody himself talking about the film:   

Sunday, 10th November 2013. Down to the beach this morning to give the dog a good run. Even before I could see the sea, as I got out of the car I could hear the continuous crash of waves. There was a strong onshore wind and spume* was flying up the beach after being whipped off the sea..   
* not a word I want to read while I'm having my breakfast!
I think we're in for another wet November - showers are blowing through every few minutes from the Bay of Biscay.

This (below) is how the sea usually looks at Anglet - I find this is quite restful to watch.. Just to orientate you, Biarritz lies on the other side of the headland to the left.

Today's Fascinating Factoid: Contrary to what you might think, Anglet is pronounced Anglette.. (you can save that one for the next time it all goes quiet in the snug!)

Monday. With the start of the rugby Autumn Internationals, I'm prompted to show you this clip (turn that volume up!). Start it at 3:22 and become a Scot for 2 minutes.. If this doesn't get the hairs on your arms standing up, check your pulse..!

Now - has that got the "tingle factor" or what? That would be worth a 7 point start to any Scotland team..In my humble opinion - and absolutely without any wish at all to offend any readers north of Hadrian's Wall - this is what the pipe bands should be playing at the start of every rugby match involving Scotland. The dreary, maudling & dirge-like "Flower of Scotland" wouldn't inspire me (a Sassenach) to crush a paper cup - whereas "Scotland the Brave" and especially "The Black Bear" (played first and last by the massed pipe band above) are both rip-roaring, rambunctious and rousing tunes guaranteed to induce the need for a good old fashioned rampage! This could do for Scottish rugby what the "Haka" does for the All Blacks. Come on Scotland fans - start a petition.. email the Scottish RFU
Hark when the night is falling
Hear! Hear the pipes are calling,
Loudly and proudly calling,
Down thro' the glen.
There where the hills are sleeping,
Now feel the blood a-leaping,
High as the spirits of the old Highland men.

Towering in gallant fame,
Scotland my mountain hame,
High may your proud standards gloriously wave,
Land of my high endeavour,
Land of the shining river,
Land of my heart for ever,
Scotland the brave.

Tuesday. The tree problem seems to be solved - we've just had 2 more quotes in that are around the 450€ mark.. which is about what I originally expected to pay.

I'm being asked what I'd like for Christmas.. After all the Highland influences from the above and having seen this hypnotic image, I'm unable to think of anything else.. so put me down for one of these - a bottomless bottle of Single Malt whisky..
Having read somewhere that Talisker 18 year old single malt had been voted the World's Best Single Malt in 2007, I had been thinking of putting one on my Christmas list - until I read these tasting notes:
Nose: Rich and fruity – Victoria plums, greengages, perhaps dried orange peel – with some butterscotch or rum toffee and a thread of smoke behind. The smoke soon advances into the foreground and the toffee note is joined by a light mintiness. With water maritime characteristics emerge – dry boat varnish, edible seaweed. Still sweet; now with notes of iodine and the smokiness of an un-struck match.
After reading that, I doubt if I'll ever be able to erase that powerful image of "dry boat varnish and edible seaweed" from my head..☺ It'll be a bottle of Glenmorangie or The Balvenie then..! Am I the only one whose favourite tipple is one or both of these? How did you discover your favourite? Any funny stories associated with it?! This quote is attributed to W C Fields:
"Always carry a large flagon of whisky in case of snakebite and furthermore always carry a small snake."
Do you always (try to) keep a drop o' the cratur in the house? Don't be shy - send in your best whisky stories via the Comment feature underneath..

To end with, here's a flash mob for you! Arriba arriba!