Friday, 18 July 2014

216. That time of the year again!

18th July. Here, Bayonne is bracing itself for the annual invasion of the barbarian hordes, aka the Fêtes de Bayonne.. For the past days the council has been erecting 2m high wire barriers in the most unlikely places to try and stop car drivers parking their vehicles where they often do during the other 51 weeks of the year. Roundabouts were the first to be fenced off, followed closely by the central reservation of dual carriageways.. You would not believe some of the places I've seen cars parked when there's been a major rugby match here. The difference is that this time over a million visitors are expected here during the 5 days (and nights) of the Fêtes. The barriers are also to stop people from sleeping in places considered inadvisable.. (such as roundabouts and the central reservation of etc etc..!☺)

Then there's the Fête itself.. here's the opening ceremony from 2013..

and the parade of the bands..

and then there's this..

For us, the Fêtes de Bayonne is a good excuse to head for the mountains and the cool crisp air.. This year we're off to the Hautes-Pyrénées..

We went to a concert by a local trio last night in Anglet - and Lascia ch'io pianga (Handel) was on the programme. I thought the soprano gave a praiseworthy performance of what is an extremely difficult piece. I had to remind myself this morning of it - here's the great Cecilia Bartoli's interpretation of the same piece (from "Rinaldo"):

Now if there was only one piece of music you could listen to before shuffling off this mortal coil I'd still be dithering between the following two pieces when the man with the scythe came a-knocking..

Wednesday, 23rd July. Here's a live link to the opening ceremony of the Fêtes de Bayonne this evening at 2200hrs local.. (9pm in the UK and 4pm in the US (eastern seaboard)..

29th July. Had a few days away at Argèles-Gazost up in the high Pyrenees during the Fêtes de Bayonne.. This is something to try next time we're there:
This is a favourite location of ours - it's the Col du Tourmalet that's often used in the Tour de France.. (click to enlarge it)

I discovered almost by accident that the Womens' Rugby World Cup was being staged in France. I only caught up with it live on French TV (France4) the other day in time to watch the semis between England and Canada. I've not been able to watch much womens' rugby in the past and it was always a case of after a few minutes the "off" button on the remote seemed an increasingly attractive option. In the past, the womens game was played with seemingly little in the way of commitment, intensity and basic skills - but I'm happy to say that this is no longer the case. Tidying my sock drawer isn't my preferred option any more! Take a look at this:
20th October 2014. Whooo-ooosh - that's the summer gone! Well, almost. For the last few days we've been enjoying an Indian summer here - it was 30°+ yesterday with more of the same forecast for today. I'm still in t shirt and shorts - but don't worry, I've warned the neighbours!☺

Yesterday we met up with Perry & Caroline (Taylor), a lively and charming Anglo-Dutch couple who I've mentioned before here. They live in the heart of Gascony a couple of hours to the east.

Perry is a talented graphic artist and recently he's been producing a series of cartoons that take a wry and affectionate look at the people of Gascony. I think he's found a seam of life in la France profonde that's rich in comic potential and his latest offering - Petites Gasconneries - could well be his breakthrough book.

Publishing is a notoriously difficult field for a new author to gain a foothold in but I think he's well on the way to getting there.

Here's one of his takes on local life that makes me laugh each time I look at it:

If you'd like to know more, take a few minutes to look through his website - his work deserves a much wider audience! This book will keep you going through those long northern winters until your next visit to the south west of France - a region that has preserved its strongly flavoured country traditions largely intact. If you love this blessèd region of France this would be an ideal stocking filler! (and no, before you ask - I'm not receiving any commission for this!☺)

21st October. "Where Did The Time Go" Dept.. We realised with a jolt last month that we've been here for 7 years already! (how did that happen?) There are always the same old questions that everyone seems to want to ask - and they all run along the same lines: do you miss England / do you have any regrets / do you think you'll go back one day? The answer is below*. We miss seeing our friends but as with so many of us these days, our friendships tend to be widely dispersed and so even in England we didn't see our friends that regularly.

I think for every one of us who takes the plunge and moves to France there must be ten (at least) who would like to but who can't for various reasons - reasons that usually involve parents or children and especially grandchildren. This is understandable but nowadays the world has become a smaller place. Once upon a time, if friends moved abroad, it was as though they'd moved to another planet. Today, with the extensive network of low cost flights around Europe travel has never been more affordable. And to fill in the gaps between visits, there's Skype.. one of the minor miracles of the age.

To those of you who are free to consider a move to France, the hardest part of the move is making the decision to go. Once you've done that, everything falls into place. If you are thinking about a move here, don't skimp on the decision-making process. (repeat ten times before going to bed!) When in England, I watched many of those French property shows that consider  the house finding process in isolation. It's so easy to be seduced by low prices, sunshine, a glass of wine on the terrace and the French lifestyle that's perceived to be "laid-back" - whatever that means. Before you even start looking at houses here, you should be asking yourself what kind of life you want to lead. (We moved here on retirement and so we only had a limited number of questions to ask ourselves.) What are your plans for the long term? Is it to be a permanent move? Could you see yourself one day in a French nursing home? Or would you be looking to return to the UK for the final "hurrah"?

Only you will know what questions to ask yourself. Be honest and clear with yourself about what you really want. It might be that renting a gîte here every summer would get rid of the "itch"..

For us, the move here closed one chapter and opened another. I think that far too much is made of the so-called French bureaucratic nightmare when newcomers engage with the institutions that govern life here. I was astonished at just how helpful people were to us. I think the key is to do your homework - research what is required and make sure that before starting on the bureaucratic paper trail that you are in possession of all the various forms and original documents required.

* For us, the answer to the exam question is, to a greater or lesser extent, no to the questions posed above - the move has been a very positive experience.
We were in Biarritz yesterday afternoon and while people were on the beach, I noticed that the chap who sells hot chestnuts was already in business outside Galeries Lafayette.. (bottom right hand corner above)

1st November. A long outing this morning on the river - I went out in a yolette (a beamy IV) and we went up-river as far as the weir at Ustaritz. This made for a round trip of some 25km.. but because we gelled well together as a crew, it was not as tiring as it can be sometimes when the boat is all over the place ("a technical term, your honour") ie, when the timing is approximate and there's no balance.. The weather was an unbelievably unseasonal 25° and the river has never looked better. The trees had just started to turn a russet green/brown and a few leaves were spiralling down in slow motion. If only it was like this every week! We beached the boat just under the weir and someone produced coffee and croissants.. (my old rowing master at school never did this!)

4th November. Well, that's it.. I think we've seen the end of our extended summer. I was out yesterday evening at choir practice and when we all left the building afterwards there was the mother of all monsoons raging outside - with the kind of rain normally reserved for Hollywood films.. This (left) definitely wasn't me last night!

My shorts and t-shirts are about to be put away back in the 'summer' chest.. Only last week, there were plenty of people sunbathing and swimming at Biarritz. Can't believe Christmas (there, I've said it) is next month.

We had the roof re-tiled (ouch!) a few weeks ago and so far all appears dry! Fingers crossed. The next job (there's always one isn't there?) is the west-facing back wall of the house which has some small cracks in it. As it's west-facing, it bears the brunt of the storms that blow in from the Bay of Biscay and so these cracks can't be ignored any longer. We've had several companies out to look at the wall and we'll have to decide which estimate to accept because I'd like to have this work finished before winter sets in. At this rate, we'll be having sausages for Christmas! (one each!) (maybe☺)    

Here's a video that shows off our corner of the world - in 25 years of first visiting and now living here, we've yet to tire of this beautiful region..  

(Wish I could say the same about the soundtrack to the above video though...!)