Friday, 31 January 2014

212. It's that time of the year again!

Thursday, 30th January. Woke up to a white world this morning - everything was covered with a carpet of hail.. (makes a change from the rain we've been having!)

To remind us all of the blue skies and warmer days that lie ahead, here's a video of the Pays Basque as seen from Bayonne. All these places are within 40 minutes of Pipérade Towers..
Now, tomorrow sees the start of the 2014 RBS 6 Nations rugby tournament.. for me, the world's greatest sporting competition.. This year the opening day sees fixtures between Wales (last year's winners) and Italy - a match that the Welsh should win reasonably comfortably. This is followed by the mouthwatering clash between France and England (or "Le Crunch" as it's known here) at the Stade de France. I was looking at the England selection earlier and the English pack looks pretty solid. Stuart Lancaster has some new caps in the backs - let's hope they're not overawed by the occasion. For France, Thierry Dusautoir (aka "The Dark Destroyer") is unfortunately out injured and will miss the entire campaign. This fixture has some ugly history - let's hope that we're just talking about the rugby on Sunday. Raphaël Ibanez (former French hooker) always talks sense so here are his views on the match.

Joe Marler (loose-head prop) is playing for England tomorrow and he's known as an "abrasive" character. Here he is stopping George North, the outsize Welsh winger (1.94m and 109kg) dead in his tracks in full flight - it's not often you'll see this..
Here are the BBC pundits predictions for the outcome of the 2014 6 Nations. Me? I'm going with Keith Wood's prediction and so that means either Ireland or England  to win.
The clip below is a view of how les Anglo-Saxons are seen from a French perspective. I very much regret that Stephen Clarke makes an appearance in this video. He's a British writer who's happy to live in France as it provides him with a convenient platform from which he can retail - via his various blogs and books - his consistently poisonous views on everything French. I am ashamed to say that his special brand of tripe finds a ready market with some sections of the British public.

Leaving him aside, many great former players pop up here: the late Jacques Fouroux, Roger Uttley, Philippe Saint-André (now coach of les Bleus), Andy Ripley, Philippe Sella, Paul Ackford, Raphaël Ibanez and others. There's also mention of that infamous France-England match in 1991 RWC in Paris and the 5 Nations match the following year! I think those days are behind us now.. the professional era means that players (and coaches) are free to ply their trades wherever they like and so this contributes to the breaking down of barriers/prejudices/stereotypes.
Here's some of the action from the England France fixture from recent years:
Finally, here are some good quotes on rugby..!

Saturday 1st February. I was thinking about rowing this morning but opening the shutters a few minutes ago revealed a very wet world out there.. I was down at the river yesterday and it was full of detritus from upstream - tree trunks bobbing along at speed, branches and all sorts of junk as the recent storms in the mountains swept on down. Even if it had been dry this morning, I'm not sure the powers-that-be at the club would have sanctioned any activity out on the water - in any contact between a thin-skinned shell boat and a tree trunk, there's only ever going to be one winner. I've been in several boats here that have had their rudders swiped off as a major log has rumbled underneath.. plus 2 years ago the coxless four I was in rolled over after a high speed collision with a semi submerged tree.. That was in January too! I don't need to relive that experience!    

Here's an excellent argument for unmanned lighthouses - this is a lighthouse in the region of Finisterre (Brittany) taking a pounding in heavy seas in the last day or so:

Sunday 2nd February. Just so that you don't think we've escaped the bad weather that's been afflicting most of western Europe of late, this was the scene in the centre of Bayonne at 5am yesterday morning.. as the Nive started rising to dangerously high levels..
Monday, 3rd February. We were up near Arcachon yesterday so we missed the Ireland - Scotland encounter in the RBS Nations.. but my second favourite team beat Scotland 28-6.. (must find a video of that match)

Here it is:
With doing all the driving I was able to think over the result of the "crunch" game on Saturday between France and England. We watched it with some French friends in Biarritz so I'd like to watch it again with the English commentary.. France took their opportunities well but they allowed England back into the game. In the end, France emerged with a 26-24 victory. Lots of "what ifs", "could haves" and "should haves" but they're all in the nature of the game.  I think Stuart Lancaster (England coach) will be unhappy with the result but not unhappy with the character and resolve shown by his team in coming back from 16-3 down - in Paris. Were les Bleus convincing winners? I'll leave that for you to decide. I'm sure they'll take the win and move on - just as England would have. A hard first match for both sides.

Anyway, here's the match in its entirety:

Wednesday 5th February. A Spanish cargo ship - the Luno (3500tons) - was wrecked just after 10am as it exited the port of Bayonne on the river Adour to make its way out to the open sea. More here.

It suffered total electrical failure and it was driven onto the breakwater (just by my dog walking beach) where the heavy seas broke it in two.
Fortunately it was empty but there is a risk of oil pollution from engine oil. All 12 crew members were winched to safety.   

Friday, 7th February. Took the dog down to the beach early yesterday morning to give him a run and also to have a look at this half a ship that someone has inconsiderately parked on the beach.. I normally have the beach to myself at this time of day but "sapristi knockoes!" - there were already a few hundred other people there with the same idea. The sea was raging - there's no other word for it - towering waves with the strong wind whipping the tops away in curling clouds of spray and dazzling white foam everywhere.

Walking purposefully through the throng were several amateur photographers equipped with expensive-looking cameras - most of which sported foot-long lenses. You can get the general idea of what happened to the ship in less than a second by looking at the above photos. I just wonder what these camera enthusiasts will do with the pictures once they've been taken. As far as I can see, whichever way you look at it, it's still just half a ship stuck on a beach.. If you don't believe me, look here!  

In the afternoon we drove down to the plage d'Ilbarritz (at Bidart, just south of Biarritz) as it was 22°.. I've mentioned this area before.. Overlooking the beach and dominating the local landscape is the Chateau d'Ilbarritz.. It has a story that a Hollywood scriptwriter couldn't equal.. Eccentric millionaire playing Wagner on a cathedral-sized organ at night with the windows wide open.. Details here.

Reminds me of an old joke:
My neighbours are always banging on the wall, even late at night. Inconsiderate b*****s!
Doesn't stop me sleeping though, as I usually stay up late anyway, practising on my bagpipes.
Château d'Ilbarritz

Here's a freebie for you.. Ever fancied learning/massacring/improving a foreign language? This site looks interesting.. There's a review of it here. I've just signed up with the intention of brushing up my French. The free site also caters for beginners - so what are you waiting for?

Friday, 3 January 2014

211. Looking forward to 2014

3rd January 2014. I hope you all had a great Christmas and I'd like to wish you health and happiness in 2014.

Here's something not to be tried after eating a Christmas pudding..! Yes, it's Course Landaise - an ancient form of bullfighting that doesn't involve any bloodshed (no bandilleros or swords). The president of the association I belong to is heavily involved in this sport and has threatened to take me along to one of his events this year. Apparently the dinners afterwards are something special..☺

Previously, we've seen a few Courses de Vachettes.. which is something of a misnomer as these cows bear zero resemblance to anything you might have seen on a farm, placidly chewing the cud..   
No, these "vachettes" come from the same stock as Spanish fighting bulls and are lightning quick on their feet and will charge anything at the drop of a hat. They weigh between 250-300kg (about half that of a fighting bull) and they don't produce milk. 

When all goes well:
And then there are days like this!

This is what I like to see..!☺
I think I've mentioned the pilgrimage walk to Santiago de Compostela here before but perhaps only in passing. The full story is here.
Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

For anyone contemplating walking the "El Camino" to Santiago de Compostela, it strikes me that these lines from The Golden Journey To Samarkand are very appropriate:

We are the Pilgrims, master; we shall go
Always a little further: it may be
Beyond the last blue mountain barred with snow,
Across that angry or that glimmering sea..

A curious ritual takes places within the cathedral at Santiago de Compostela - the swinging of a large container - or Botafumeiro - of incense.. (go to 01:30 to see the start)   

From Wiki:
A dome above the crossing contains the pulley mechanism to swing the "Botafumeiro", which is a famous thurible found in this church. This thurible was created by the goldsmith José Losada in 1851. The Santiago de Compostela Botafumeiro is the largest censer in the world, weighing 80 kg and measuring 1.60 m in height. It is normally on exhibition in the library of the cathedral, but during certain important religious high days it is attached to the pulley mechanism, filled with 40 kg of charcoal and incense. In the Jubilee Years, whenever St James's Day falls on a Sunday, the Botafumeiro is also attached in all the Pilgrims' Masses. Eight red-robed tiraboleiros pull the ropes and bring it into a swinging motion almost to the roof of the transept, reaching speeds of 80 km/h and dispensing thick clouds of incense. One explanation of this custom, which originated more than 700 years ago—although incense has been used in Catholic ritual from the earliest times—is that it assisted in masking the stench emanating from hundreds of unwashed pilgrims.

If you've been fortunate enough to have visited the Pays Basque (and if not - why not!), you will surely remember that tuna is a popular dish here. If you've ever wondered how they are caught, wonder no further!
This is fishing as you've never seen it before!

Sunday, 5th January. I came across these lines of W.H. Auden (from "Good-Bye to the Mezzogiorno") this morning..

Out of a gothic North, the pallid children of a potato, beer-or-whisky Guilt culture..

Think there's something in this.. certainly as far as the pleasures of the table are concerned.

Monday 6th January. Sometimes it appears that people can't be saved from themselves. This clip shows the mindlessness of a young man in the face of major waves on Saturday 4th..
This was the scene a day later after two people were swept away by an unusually large wave near the lighthouse at Biarritz. They'd disregarded barriers and warning notices and were watching the spectacular seascape from a closed off vantage point when a rogue wave came along.. I believe the man managed to escape after 20 minutes in the water but his female companion was not so lucky - her body was found a few days later.
I forgot to mention that I went down to the river on Saturday morning for the first outing of the New Year. We took an VIII out that was missing (for reasons unknown) stroke's riggers.. so we went out as a VII.. As the boat was rigged for sculling (ie, with 2 sculls each) it was no problem. However, once out on the water we faced the strongest current I can remember and a significant headwind. The upshot of all this was that we progressed upstream at little more than walking pace. Instead of the usual chatter in the boat (which was streng verboten when I was at school!) we all fell strangely silent as we bent to our task (made all the more difficult by the thousands of extra calories that had been freely ingested during the preceding 2 weeks!) What's that expression? No pain, no gain..? It was never truer than on this morning in early January.

Friday 10th January. The giant wave at Belharra has been active these last few days..

In the following clip, watch the sequence from 02:45...!

Slideshow here. One wave around midday had the power to break 6 (yes, six!) surfboards.. (Dirty Harry's famous quote springs to mind here: "You've got to ask yourself one question. Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?")
This link to an article in the Sud Ouest (local daily) also has a good video.

Aux 3 B
We went to Biarritz yesterday for a retail experience (please - not therapy, never!) and as lunchtime approached, I remembered a new bistrot I'd spotted the other day conveniently located in the Avenue de Verdun (2 mins from the Place Clémenceau in the centre of town). It's Aux 3 B (the former bistrot Ahizpak) and it's run by the genial Freddy Verdoux. It appears that it has only been open for a few days - these small places come and go - but we tried their 15€ lunchtime menu. A garlicky salade aux pleurotes with some parmesan shavings, then a faux filet and frites maison - this really hit the spot! - and then a crumble (v fashionable!).. As they say here - an excellent rapport qualité prix. Despite it only having been open for a few days, it was well patronised by locals and it filled up rapidly. A useful and friendly address to remember.