May 19, Bayonne

Breakfast: see above. Doesn’t matter we’re in a different hotel, offerings and company were the same.

Then a short stroll to a barge for our lecture on Basque history and life. Our guide was Andy Fisher, a Kiwi, actually, who married a local girl and settled in Bayonne. He was very funny and very interesting, and I was able to indulge in a little mild Stump the Docent with him. I’d read Mark Kurlansky’s Basque History of the World several years ago, and remembered a little. But I had no idea that Basque society was so egalitarian or that Basques had contributed so much to world exploration.

Back to the hotel for lunch. Another starter dish of cured meats, very taste, and a perhaps a duck drumstick and a layered potato casserole. Ice cream for dessert. We left before coffee, wanting a little time to get organized for our road trip. I am definitely feeling the need for salads and vegetables.

Then the road trip in a too-tiny bus to a carefully preserved Basque house. It was out in the country , and the road was far too curvy and narrow. We were crammed in the bus, long legs hanging out in the aisle, feeling slightly queasy. On the road, we got a phone call from the hotel: we had left someone behind. Whoops. After dropping us off, Odile and the bus driver returned to Bayonne to pick her up, and Andy stayed with us and translated for the local guide.

The house was gorgeous. Look at the photos. One tall tour member pointed out how high all the ceilings were, unusual for a 17th Century house. There was a big kitchen, three bedrooms, a sheltered work area, and a large attic for drying grains, where the cats patroled to keep down the rodents. Alas, none were working there now. Downstairs there was a place for farm animals, and even the bee hive was close to the front door. The guide said the bees were so used to humans that the beekeeper needed no protection when working with them. There was a small  press to make wine, and a  huge one to make apple cider. Note the photos of reams of bottles and the big barrels. Apparently, maize, our Indian corn, was introduced to the Basque area, and proved so useful for feeding both livestock and humans, and so easy to grow, that it began to supplant apples as the primary crop.

Andy said the house was inherited by the eldest child, regardless of sex, who then married a not firstborn from another house, who became part of the owner’s family. Younger family members were allowed to stay in the house, but encouraged as adults to make their own way in the world. Couples cohabitated and didn’t marry until pregnant, as it was crucial that an heir be provided for the house. If they didn’t get pregnant after a couple years, they would split up and find new partners, and try again. Amazing.

After leaving the Basque house, we went to the little town of Saint-Jean-de-Luz. It’s a fishing town, kind of a laid-back Santa Cruz type of town. The weather was quite mild, and lots of little shops lined the main walkway. well….we did go into a chocolate shop…We also went into the cathedral of St. John the Baptiste. One interesting feature was that there were several balconies in the interior of the cathedral running the length of the side walls. This was to accommodate more people at services. I only got one photo of the cathedral, and it shows the incredibly ornate altar piece, not the balconies.

I wandered around Bayonne before meeting Teddy and Tom for dinner. I love the ramparts that encircle the town. Look at the photos of the soccer game. They were just guys, not in uniforms, one side wore colored vests, no shin guards. I missed getting a photo of the goalie lounging near the cage, waiting for the game to begin, a soccer ball as a pillow under his head. A fabulous time was had by all.

Then, walking through the old town, feeling slightly uneasy at the large groups of young men gathered about, I was approached by two clean-cut young men in white shirts and ties. They began a conversation, and asked me where I was from, no doubt realizing I wasn’t French. “I’m from Oregon,” I said, thinking that would shut them up. “Oh! I’m from Oregon, too!” said one of them. And I thought, right. But he was, from Salem, and they were Mormon missionaries, which I had figured out. They were both charming young men, and we had a nice chat. I managed not to snarkily remind them about Mitt Romney doing his missionary work in the South of France. The one from Salem was almost done his two-year service, and would be heading home next week.

Tom, Teddy and I first went to a very fancy restaurant, and soon realized that we were not prepared for the expense and level of engagement at such a fancy place, so we slipped out and looked for something more casual on the river bank. Besides, Tom wanted soup. We ended up at the Bistrot de la Nive, a bar right on the river, and had a lovely dinner and a great time, even though I managed to spill most of my wine. There was a nice big green salad for starters, some salmon in sesame, and a Basque cake, whatever that was, it was delicious, for dessert. We were late starting, and after rejecting one restaurant, and the casual service in the second, it was 11 pm before we made it back to the hotel. I was feeling very continental by then, but surprisingly, not tired. Photos to download, posts to write, then bed. ah, La Belle France.

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